Topeka Although testimony this week showed strong support in the Kansas Legislature for a universal health insurance bill, even its most ardent backers know the idea may be several years away from becoming law.
But working with the largest independent health care organization in Kansas, the Wesley Foundation in Wichita, two lawmakers are preparing a bill that could start reform of the state's health care system during this session.
Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, one of the sponsors of the universal health insurance bill, and Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, have held several meetings with Wesley Foundation officials on creation of the Kansas Health Commission.
The commission, which would be funded both by the state and by private donations from agencies like Wesley, would undertake what could be a multimillion dollar study of health needs in Kansas.
"UNIVERSAL health insurance may be too much at one time," Winter said. "This proposal will be less dramatic, but it will be specifically designed to build a consensus for some major health care reform."
Among projects for the commission would be collection of Kansas health statistics, various proposals for setting up health care objectives in the next century, and a look at the status of rural health care.
Besides gathering information, Winter said the commission would assist lawmakers in implementing needed programs.
Included in the program will be the beginning of a prioritization of health care treatment similar to what has been implemented by the Oregon Legislature, Winter said.
Under the Oregon plan, thousands of different health care treatments were ranked by the state. Treatments that fall low on the priority list are not funded by the state. In making priorities, the state considered a number of factors, including survival chances after treatment and cost.
BUT WINTER said the goal of the Kansas Health Commission would be broader in scope than simply determining what treatments should be funded by the state.
"It not only will look at what services should be eliminated, but what services should be provided to everyone," Winter said. "It would identify specific types of coverage, determine funding mechanisms, and have a cost containment features."
The Midwest Bioethics Center in Kansas City, Mo., another non-profit agency that studies ethical dilemmas in modern health care, is expected to be involved in the work toward prioritizing health care treatment. It already has been involved in discussions with the legislators.
SEN. DOUG Walker, D-Osawatomie, who co-sponsored the universal health care bill with Winter, said an indepedent board to study and make health care decisions, such as the one being proposed, is a necessity.
He said the state "needs to let people know what their health care choices are."
Winter said other private funding sources, such as a grant available to states for the study of health care needs from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J., could also provide funding for the commission.
Winter said his goal is to generate broad support for the proposal by the time the bill is introduced later this month.
"We're trying to build a consensus of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats," he said.