Politics & Government

Legislators formulating plan to remove Kansas from Affordable Care Act

The Kansas Statehouse is bathed in late afternoon light. After nearly 13 years and more than $300 million the Capitol is almost better than new.
The Kansas Statehouse is bathed in late afternoon light. After nearly 13 years and more than $300 million the Capitol is almost better than new. The Wichita Eagle

A group of Kansas lawmakers is seeking to sever Kansas from the authority of the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, introduced a bill at the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs this week that, if passed, would bring Kansas into the Health Care Compact, a group of states asking Congress to give them independence from the Affordable Care Act.

Hildabrand said the idea came from an e-mail conversation with Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, and Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Pilcher-Cook, chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, held hearings last week about Obamacare’s impact on small businesses.

So far eight states, including Oklahoma and Missouri, have passed plans to join the compact. Hildabrand took his bill’s template from the site healthcarecompact.org and said his bill is “identical in every way” to the ones passed in other states except for minor revisions to fit Kansas statute.

The legislation is designed by an Houston-based organization called Competitive Governance Action, a 501(c)(4) organization chaired by construction magnate Leo Linback III.

Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for Competitive Governance Action, said in a phone call the group does not disclose its donor list. However, he said that it does not accept donations from the health care industry.

Hildabrand said he did not have any contact with the organization before introducing the bill. A similar bill was passed by the House in 2012, but never made it through the Senate.

The bill states that member states would have the ability to “suspend by legislation the operation of all federal laws, rules, regulations, and orders regarding health care.”

Ellis explained this would allow states to set their own rules and regulations. He said that if Vermont wanted to adopt a single-payer health care system it could. If Kansas wanted to pursue a business-based solution, it would have that option as well.

“That’s the beauty of it. They get to determine,” Ellis said. He argued that states are better suited than Washington to make that determination for their residents. States would still receive the funds allocated for Obamacare but would have the discretion on how to use them.

But that would be contingent on Congress giving states the autonomy to do that.

The bill hinges on a clause in the U.S. Constitution that gives states the power to enter into compacts, or interstate agreements, with congressional approval.

Ellis said no presidential signature is needed to approve compacts.

“The Constitution is quite clear on this. Congress must give consent. It does not say anything about the president,” Ellis said.

Will the plan get traction? U.S. Rep Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., has been an outspoken critic of Obamacare, but his office would not answer whether he would support a compact plan. Their efforts are focused on repeal, a spokesman said in an e-mail.

Hildabrand admits Congress is unlikely to approve such a plan right now, but he is hoping that if Republicans take back the U.S. Senate in the upcoming election it’ll open the door.

“What this is really contingent upon in the November 2014 elections,” Hildabrand said. He thinks it should be something the Republican Party pushes its congressional candidates to support.

For his part, Hildabrand is hoping that the bill would give Kansas the opportunity to craft a “free market approach.”

“Government involvement in health care is what started driving up the costs,” Hildabrand said. He thinks fewer regulations would drive down the price of health care in Kansas.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who has been a fierce proponent of Medicaid expansion, rolled his eyes at the plan to sever from the Affordable Care Act and said the Legislature should take up more practical measures to improve health care for Kansans.

“We are always better being part of the whole of the United States, and Medicaid is a proven program so expanding Medicaid makes more sense than trying to re-create the wheel after 50 years,” Ward said.

Ward said he wants the Legislature to have more serious, and less ideological, discussions about improving health care.

“It’s time for my extreme conservative colleagues to say with those being the problems, what are some solutions, without always being against the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Hildabrand said his bill isn’t meant as an ideological statement.

“I actually think it’s a practical approach,” Hildabrand said. “Once we start seeing the full problems that Obamacare is causing, many people are going to be trying to get out of this as quick as possible.”

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