Topeka With 300,000 uninsured Kansans, health care has become a major issue in the race for governor, and the two major party candidates have vastly different ideas on the subject.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat seeking re-election and a former state insurance commissioner, has made access to health insurance a top priority during her administration.
Challenger Jim Barnett, a Republican state senator and physician from Emporia, also has focused on health issues during his legislative career, and he is chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committees.
Sebelius has proposed making sure all children from birth to 5 years old have health coverage.
"It makes sure that kids get the preventative care they need, they have a healthy home and they can be treated at an earlier stage at a more cost-effective manner," Sebelius said.
She included $3.5 million for the plan in her budget proposal earlier this year, but it was rejected by the Legislature.
On health issues, Sebelius has run into opposition several times from the Republican-dominated Legislature.
"I'm afraid it's an area where the Legislature too often has decided that politics is better than helping the people of Kansas," she said.
In 2005, lawmakers ignored Sebelius' plan to raise cigarette taxes to provide health care coverage to more low-income adults and to provide tax credits for small-businesses' health plans.
Also in 2005, Republicans blocked Sebelius' executive order to reorganize Medicaid and then passed their own version, which was similar to Sebelius'.
More about the race
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- GOP chairman comes out swinging (10-03-06)
- Police, troopers endorse Sebelius (09-30-06)
- Barnett outlines health care proposal (09-27-06)
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- Candidate: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D)
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Barnett has criticized Sebelius' efforts on health care.
"The central issue is, is it the role of government to insure everyone in Kansas? Her step is a step in the direction of socialized medicine," he said.
Barnett said the current availability of Medicaid and Healthwave - programs that provide heath coverage for low-income families - is adequate.
"I support our current system, which does provide health insurance to the needy," he said. "Before we expand Medicaid and welfare, we need to be able to afford what we are currently providing."
In recent days, Barnett has been pushing a new proposal that would create the Kansas Health Connector.
Under this plan, most insurance companies would be required to sell health policies through the connector. Instead of getting insurance through a group, such as the workplace, Kansans would buy their policies on an individual basis through the connector.
"This is a way for you to own insurance," Barnett said. "I want that insurance to be yours, so that you carry it with you and buy it with pre-tax dollars."
He said policyholders would keep their policies as they change jobs. He said he didn't know how much the plan would cost but maintained it would reduce costs in the long-run by reducing duplicative medical tests that occur now when people change insurers.
Such a system has started in Massachusetts and is being watched closely by states, including the Kansas Health Policy Authority, to see whether it works.
The Massachusetts plan, however, requires people to purchase coverage, and it requires employers to pay a certain amount for each employee for insurance. It sets monetary fines for people who don't have insurance.
Sebelius says Barnett's plan would create a "major new bureaucracy" and goes against the concept of making insurance affordable by spreading insurance risks among large groups of policyholders.
"Individual insurance is the most expensive and least protective kind of insurance," she said.
"What I think makes a lot more sense is to get people in groups. The people who have health insurance, the vast majority, are in group health plans. What we want to do is create larger pools so that self-employed, small-business owners can be in group plans," she said.