Anti-health care reform measure on the comeback trail in the Legislature

ObamaLandwehrTOPEKA — Having failed as a constitutional amendment this session, the Health Care Freedom Act is poised to make a comeback as a state law.

The measure seeks to exempt residents of Kansas from having to purchase health insurance under the federal Affordable Health Care Act. The bill is a conservative Republican response to what they derisively call “ObamaCare.”

Moments ago, a House-Senate Conference Committee unanimously agreed to include the Health Care Freedom Act in a multi-part bill bundling a dozen health measures including changes in pharmacy audits, dental franchising and addiction counseling, along with an exemption from the state indoor smoking ban for a Wichita priest’s annual charity cigar benefit.

The HCFA was originally proposed as a constitutional amendment and passed the House, but stalled in the no-less Republican but somewhat-less-conservative Senate. If it had been passed, it would have gone to voters for final approval.

Tonight, both chambers are expected to pass the act as an ordinary state law. That would mean that unlike an amendment, it could be changed by future legislatures.

The federal health law seeks to achieve near-universal health coverage by requiring most employers to provide insurance opportunities for employees. Most uninsured people would be required to buy health insurance — with government help for the poor — in insurance exchanges.

The requirement is scheduled to take effect starting in 2014.

Assuming the Legislature passes the HFCA as a law, “we believe that people will still be able to make choices in 2014,” Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, the chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said after the conference committee meeting.

“Well, some of you believe that,” interjected Rep. Geraldine Flaherty, D-Wichita, the ranking minority member of the committee.

Flaherty said she doesn’t think the HCFA will actually accomplish anything because she doubts the state can legally exempt itself from a federal law. The Supreme Court will eventually decide whether the federal act itself is constitutional, she added.

“There’s no point in stopping the rest of this bill over that issue,” she said.