Politics & Government

Law rejecting federal health reform awaits Brownback

TOPEKA — Kansas was close Tuesday to joining other states in enacting a law designed to block a mandate in last year's federal health care overhaul requiring most Americans to buy health insurance.

A proposed "health care freedom" law was on Gov. Sam Brownback's desk. Legislators bundled the measure with other proposed changes in regulations for health care providers. Brownback is expected to act on the legislation by Friday.

The measure says residents have the right to refuse to buy health insurance and instead pay for health care services directly, adding that they can't be fined or forced to pay other penalties for refusing to buy health insurance. The federal mandate taking effect in 2014 includes tax penalties for most Americans if they don't buy insurance.

"Legislators are standing up for the liberty of Kansas citizens," said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee. "They are the people's voice."

Some legislators had questioned whether a Kansas law would have any practical effect. They said the federal law — if upheld by the courts — would trump any state policy.

"The only way they were going to get it is if it was packaged with things other people wanted," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg. "There was something in there for everybody."

Brownback, who served 14 years in the U.S. Senate before becoming governor in January, has been a strong critic of the federal health care overhaul, and he supports the measure.

But spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said Brownback is carefully reviewing the other provisions in the bill before making a decision.