Topeka — A proposal to ensure that all Kansas children from birth through 5 years old have health care was criticized Wednesday as "warm and fuzzy" but probably not doable by a key legislator.
"It's a nice, warm and fuzzy out there, but I don't think it's the path we want to go down," said state Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.
Landwehr is a member of a House-Senate health oversight committee. She also is vice chairwoman of the House budget-writing committee and chairwoman of the social services budget subcommittee that considers health care legislation.
The oversight committee was receiving recommendations from the new Kansas Health Policy Authority, which is charged with improving the health of Kansans and operating the state health care programs for low-income Kansans and people with disabilities.
One of the authority's recommendations for the Legislature when it meets in January is to increase the availability of health insurance for children through the age of 5. The proposal would cost from $4 million to $6 million and provide health coverage for an estimated 15,000 children, according to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office.
But Landwehr said that while the program sounds laudable, a lot of details haven't been worked out.
For instance, officials said they were unsure of how much the federal government would contribute to the cost.
Landwehr said state legislators have to balance budget priorities, and she added that the state needs to do a better job of coordinating existing programs aimed at helping children.
Dr. Marcia Nielsen, interim executive director of the health authority, however, said the agency believes that the proposal is necessary and has widespread support.
"We want to work with you on this and not against you," Nielsen told the committee.
Landwehr also criticized the authority for making numerous recommendations instead of mapping out a comprehensive strategy.
"I'm a little bit concerned we may be getting away from a comprehensive approach," she said.
Nielsen said the authority's proposals "absolutely march us in the direction of comprehensive reform."
State Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, said he wanted the authority to investigate the possibility that Kansas could follow the lead of Massachusetts, which has established a three-year program to provide insurance to every resident of that state.
But Committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, a Republican state representative from Ingalls, said the Massachusetts plan would fail because it won't contain costs.
Nielsen said the Massachusetts plan probably wouldn't work in Kansas, but that policymakers could learn from it.
The authority said it also will recommended lawmakers approve:
¢ Expanded dental services for adults;
¢ Providing childhood obesity counseling through Medicaid;
¢ An additional $1.1 million for more staff.