Sunday, December 21, 2014

Governor could face blowback on health care bills

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 4/11/2014

TOPEKA — Two bills regarding restriction of health care coverage in Kansas are on their way to receive a signature from Gov. Sam Brownback to become law. But if polls conducted by Public Policy Polling are correct, Brownback might need to think twice before putting pen to paper.

A powerful lobbying group, as well as respondents to a new Kansas political poll, indicate renewed opposition to the legislation.

The Kansas Legislature passed two bills during the 2014 legislative session, both with either the direct intent or with amendments to support the blocking of uses of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, within state borders. The House approved House Bill 2552 April 4 with a 68-54 vote, which had been passed with an amendment by the Senate on March 25. The bill’s original intent was to put pressure on the Kansas Medical Assistance Program and managed care organizations in Kansas that were not promptly paying Kansas residents, but the Senate added an amendment that would give the Legislature the final say on the expansion of Medicaid in Kansas.

Also April 4, the Senate passed House Bill 2553 with a 29-11 vote, a bill that would allow Kansas to join the Interstate Health Care Compact with several other states. If Kansas joins the compact, the state can separate itself from requirements of the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers said. Both bills have been sent to Gov. Brownback’s desk.

While State Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, voted for the state to join the health care compact, he voted against the bill that would give the Legislature the opportunity to deny medicaid expansion. State Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, and State Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, voted to approve both bills. Tyson said previously the amendment to the bill was to help restrict the Affordable Care Act in Kansas.

Finch voted against the passage of the bill that would give the Legislature the final say on the expansion of Medicaid because it would add more bureaucracy to the legislative process, he said. Current law says the decision on Medicaid belongs to the governor, he said.

“I voted no because that decision belongs to the governor,” Finch said. “The amendment added a needless and redundant layer of red tape to the process.”

As for joining the health care compact, Finch said previously that he supports the bill that would give the state more control over health care coverage that is currently governed by the Affordable Care Act. 

Opponents of the bill are worried how the measure will affect the state’s Medicare program, Finch said. He said the bill would need to be approved by the U.S. Congress before it would be effective, which he said could be a long shot. Even if Congress does approve the bill, it’s likely it would retain the federal control of portions of health care programs like Medicare, he said.

Dave Wilson, a volunteer with Kansas AARP, said the health care compact bill is detrimental to many Kansans. The AARP has urged Brownback to veto the bill.

“HB 2553 will jeopardize security, choice and benefits for seniors, including veterans and people with disabilities, who rely on the Medicare program for their health care coverage,” Wilson said. “This bill is scary because it carries with it effects and consequences for all Kansans who rely on federal laws to protect their health care. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Under the compact bill, Kansas citizens could lose many rights and protections they don’t even realize are in danger.”

Finch said previously he is concerned with the possibility of hurting seniors through the compact’s control.

“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.

As for the denial of Medicaid in Kansas, Brownback might need to think twice before he allows the Legislature to help make decisions regarding the health care service. Polls conducted by Public Policy Polling show that Kansans are less likely to vote for Brownback in the coming gubernatorial election if he denies the expansion of Medicaid.

Fifty-two percent of Kansans think the state should accept federal funding to expand Medicaid programs in Kansas, according to the pollster, while 35 percent said the state should not. In the same poll, 45 percent of Kansans said they would vote for state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence — Brownback’s opposition in the gubernatorial election — if the election were held today, and 41 percent said they would re-elect Brownback. The poll also asked if voters were more likely or less likely to re-elect Brownback based on his opposition against accepting federal funding to expand Medicaid, with 41 percent saying they were less likely to re-elect Brownback and 33 percent saying they were more likely.

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