Politics & Government

April 23, 2014

Brownback signs health care compact bill

Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a bill meant to separate Kansas from the federal government’s authority on health care issues.

Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a bill meant to separate Kansas from the federal government’s authority on health care issues.

HB 2553 commits Kansas to join a proposed health care compact of states seeking to break away from the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The U.S. Congress still must decide whether to approve the compact.

Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger and the AARP have voiced concern that the new law will disrupt Medicare in Kansas. Federal health care dollars would come to Kansas as a block grant for the state to administer.

More than 448,000 Kansans rely on Medicare for their health care needs and this policy puts them at risk, said Maren Turner, the Kansas director of the AARP, which urged the governor to veto the bill.

“I see no evidence that the Legislature thought through the administration of a program like Medicare and this proposal seems to be rooted in politics as one way to show disdain for Obamacare,” she said in a phone call. “Medicare is a guaranteed benefit. And so placing it in the compact places the health care of Kansans in jeopardy.”

Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, who introduced the bill, said the compact does not establish specific changes for Medicare benefits. It empowers the Legislature to make changes, but the state could choose to let federal administration of the program continue, he said.

He said a resolution might be introduced during the upcoming veto session stating that the Legislature has no plans to make changes to Medicare benefits.

Brownback said in a statement that he would “oppose any effort at the state level to reduce Medicare benefits or coverage for Kansas seniors. I signed HB 2553 with this understanding and will work to make it a reality when the compact becomes effective.”

The governor also pointed a finger at the Obama Administration: “The Health Care Compact will allow states to restore and protect Medicare for generations to come. Obamacare is the most serious attack on Medicare and seniors since the program’s inception. By cutting $700 billion out of Medicare, President Obama and his allies made a policy statement that ideology is more important than protecting seniors.”

The $700 billion figure has been frequently quoted by conservative critics of the Affordable Care Act. A February analysis by the website Politifact.com, which fact checks political claims, found “there is reduction in spending to Medicare outlays, but it’s fueled by finding savings in the program, a move that Republicans actually supported in the Ryan budget. Medicare spending still increases in the coming years." Politifact rated the figure as “Half True.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he doesn’t “put much faith in the governor’s statement that he wouldn’t meddle and change Medicare,” and pointed to Brownback’s decision to privatize Medicaid with the KanCare program.

“I think he would,” Ward said in a phone call. “I think all we have do is look at what he did to Medicaid and know that privatization is a real possibility with this governor.”

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, the likely Democratic opponent for Brownback in November, issued a statement accusing the governor of putting politics ahead of Kansans.

“That's not the type of leadership Kansans – especially our seniors – deserve,” Davis said.

Sending a ‘clear message’

Hildabrand emphasized that the bill was aimed at freeing Kansas from the Affordable Care Act.

“I think it does send a clear message to the Obama administration that Kansas and the eight other member states don’t approve of the Affordable Care Act regulations and the impact it has on business and medical needs,” Hildabrand said.

“I think it does actually have a practical application. I think that this is a states’ rights issue of returning health care back to the states and this is a practical means of doing that,” he added.

Hildabrand said that is contingent on Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate in November’s elections. Supporters of the bill acknowledge the idea is unlikely to pass the Senate with its current Democratic majority.

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, has co-sponsored a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would approve the compact’s formation. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to approve interstate agreements known as compacts; they do not require presidential approval.

Turner said the AARP would urge members of the Kansas congressional delegation to oppose the compact. She also said the organization would send a voters guide to members informing them where state and federal candidates stand on the issue.

U.S. Rep Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said in an email that he supports legislation that “returns power to the states to come up with viable solutions to the health care system that Obamacare has made worse.”

The idea for the compact came from Competitive Governance Action, a 501(c)(4) organization based in Houston and chaired by construction magnate Leo Linbeck III. It does not disclose its donors.

In a statement, the organization said health care would be overseen best by states rather than “one-size-fits-all policies mandated from Washington.”

Praeger said one of the ironies of the proposed health care compact is that interstate compacts are typically meant to create more uniformity between states. But this plan has the opposite intention, she added.

“Here we are starting with a program that is uniform, is implemented across the country in the same way, and we’re trying to dismantle it with no plan for going forward,” she said in a phone call.

Ward said the prospect of the compact becoming a reality if Republicans take the Senate is scary because the law does not outline how it would work.

“There was no plan. All they have is a name. A concept,” he said.

Hildabrand said the compact is “resetting the clock” on health care and would enable the state to return to a free-market system.

“Even before the implementation of Obamacare, you know, there’s so many regulations on health care, regulations relating to even purchasing health care across state lines,” he said. “Ideally, with this compact’s other member states, that opens up that possibility. Just more of a free-market approach to health care.”

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