Thursday, October 23, 2014

House targets ‘Obamacare’ ... but will it work?

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 3/24/2014

Political theater? Or a real shot at exempting Kansans from Obamacare?

Lawmakers and experts across the state are debating the merits of House Bill 2553, which would allow Kansas to separate itself from requirements of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Some aren’t convinced the measure, which passed the House Monday on a 74-48 vote, is a legitimate opportunity to help Kansans with health care.

Political theater? Or a real shot at exempting Kansans from Obamacare?

Lawmakers and experts across the state are debating the merits of House Bill 2553, which would allow Kansas to separate itself from requirements of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Some aren’t convinced the measure, which passed the House Monday on a 74-48 vote, is a legitimate opportunity to help Kansans with health care.

“We haven’t studied [HB 2553] much, as it seems like political theater at best, and we have real issues to spend our time on,” Dean Ohmart, chief financial officer at Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, said Monday.

Franklin County’s House delegation — state Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville — voted in support of the bill. The legislation next moves to the state Senate, then potentially to Gov. Sam Brownback before it could become law. Of course, its success also would depend on the U.S. Congress allowing the bill to be legal on the federal level.

While the legislation realistically won’t have much effect on Kansas health care, Ohmart said, it gives the state some room for political posturing.

“I would rather they all work together to find solutions instead of pointing fingers at the other guys and saying it’s their fault,” Ohmart said.

HB 2553 would allow the state to join the Interstate Healthcare Compact, which is a joint agreement with several states that would allow flexibility in implementing solutions to the problems people face with health care, Finch said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 26 states have introduced legislation to join the Interstate Healthcare Compact, with seven states passing the legislation.

“In other words, the compact would allow the state to have some control over items that are now governed by the Affordable Care Act,” Finch said. “To the extent that we can develop a Kansas solution to the health care cost crisis, I support those aims.”

Opponents to the bill are worried about what the compact would do to the state’s Medicare system, Finch said, noting he is doubtful the U.S. Congress would approve the compact. If it is allowed, Congress probably would retain control of the federal portion of health care, including Medicare, Finch said. Safeguards were set in place to protect the state from the possibility of Congress maintaining control, he said, with Kansas getting a say in the terms of the compact, allowing the state to specify which programs are included or excluded from the compact and allow for the state to opt out of the compact after six months.

“If any of the compact’s policies at all threaten Medicare, I will not be supportive and will fight to preserve the promises we have made to our seniors,” Finch said. “In short, I think this is a long shot to retain some state sovereignty over matters of health care and allow us to have a homegrown Kansas solution instead of Obamacare mandates.”

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