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Kansas Insurance Department explores how health care compact would affect traveling seniors’ coverage

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at 3:01 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, April 27, 2014, at 9:36 a.m.

A bill that would put federal money for health care programs under a state umbrella could potentially affect whether seniors remained covered when traveling to other states, according to a spokesman for the Kansas Insurance Department.

But the organization pushing for the health care compact, which Kansas would join if Gov. Sam Brownback signs HB 2553 and Congress approves, says that concerns about Medicare are scare tactics. Supporters of the bill say it offers Kansas a potential way out of the Affordable Care Act’s regulations.

Sheryl Davis, a 67-year-old retiree in Wichita, contacted The Eagle with a question about whether her Medicare coverage would still work when she travels out of state if the program is separated from federal authority and funded through a block grant to the state, as it would be under the proposed compact.

“When you’re old and you go places, parts begin to break and do strange things and it doesn’t pick its location … something could happen and the idea that we could go and that kind of coverage follows us is great,” Davis said.

Bob Hanson, spokesman for the Kansas Insurance Department, said he could not answer with certainty. He clarified that Medicare already does not cover accidents that happen overseas, but that people can buy supplementary plans to cover foreign travel.

The compact probably would not change the availability of supplemental plans. But what the compact would mean for traveling between states is trickier to answer, Hanson said in an e-mail.

“That’s harder to answer because of unknown variables with what could happen in a compact situation. Currently, you would be covered for out-of-state travel through reciprocal arrangements with other states,” he said.

He could not say with certainty whether that arrangement would be affected and called the question “pretty hypothetical.”

Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger called on Gov. Sam Brownback to veto the bill on Tuesday, citing uncertainty about what could happen if Medicare fell under the authority of state officials.

“When we have a state that’s willing to turn their back on Medicaid expansion I’d have to question what could happen to the Medicare program if it is being run at the state level,” Praeger said.

Curtis Ellis, spokesman for Competitive Governance Action, the Houston-based organization that drafted the health care compact bill, voiced frustration and said Praeger and others were using scare tactics. He said the fears about Medicare are unfounded.

“Let’s wake up here. Unknown variables? That covers the waterfront!” he said in a phone call. “This is scare tactics.”

He called Davis’ concerns about her Medicare coverage understandable, but said they had been caused by misinformation from the bill’s opponents.

“It will not affect her being able to take her Medicare wherever she wants and being covered,” Ellis said.

In a followup e-mail he said that under the compact Medicare would continue to “be handled by reciprocity agreements among the states.”

Mary Tritsch, a spokeswoman for the AARP, which opposes the bill, said there definitely will be an impact. “We just don't what it would be," she said.

"Say this woman was traveling up in Maine. Normally, they would take their Medicare card in and the service would be provided because the provider knows that they're going to be paid through Medicare. If the state takes it over, it's anybody's guess," Tritsch said.

"It would just throw everything in disarray. It would cause confusion. When states enter into compacts it's usually to facilitate something versus this compact, which is simply to get Kansas out of the ACA," she added.

Ellis has criticized the AARP's opposition to the compact, claiming that the organization stands to gain financially from the Affordable Care Act through an increased need for Medigap insurance. But Tritsch said that is untrue. The AARP is not an insurance provider; instead, it helps connect people with Medigap insurance, she said.

Davis called the question mark surrounding Medicare and the compact proposal unnerving. She said that she’ll be able to research online where her coverage works, but that many other people her age or older are not computer literate and will be unable to do the same.

“There are a load of people my age who don’t have computers, who don’t have e-mail, who don’t know how to use them … who don’t have that capability. What do they do?” she said.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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