Health officials say universal coverage plan not pie in sky

? Gov. Kathleen Sebelius raised some eyebrows when she proposed health insurance coverage for all Kansans during her State of the State address.

But health care officials on Friday said the goal should come as no surprise, and, in fact, state policymakers have been looking at the issue for months.

The Kansas Health Policy Authority, a creation of the Republican-controlled Legislature and Sebelius, a Democrat, was formed July 1, 2005, with the mission of coordinating an efficient, statewide health system.

One of its guiding principles states: “Every Kansan should have access to patient-centered health care and public health services ensuring the right care, at the right place, and the right price.”

The Legislature directed the Health Policy Authority to study the Massachusetts plan for universal coverage and present a report to lawmakers next month.

“Other states have made great strides in health care reform,” said Megan Ingmire, a spokeswoman for the authority. “There are lot of things we can learn from them, but we need to have a plan that works well for Kansas.”

For Nikki King, executive director of Health Care Access, which is a Lawrence clinic that provides services for the uninsured, the state can’t expand coverage soon enough.

“The time is here that health care is becoming more of a crisis,” King said. “We’re really at a tipping point in the health care system. Something radical needs to happen.”

Approximately 300,000 Kansans, more than one in 10, have no health insurance.

After Sebelius’ call for a universal coverage plan, some Republicans responded that she was proposing socialized medicine.

But King said a costly, inefficient system of universal health coverage already exists.

“Everybody does have health care. It’s called the emergency room for those who don’t have coverage, and that is the most expensive door to go through. Everyone pays for that,” she said.

Sebelius also has been criticized for making the proposal, but providing no details, unlike California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who unveiled a detailed universal health care plan.

But Sebelius told the Legislature any progress on the issue will require input from all sides.

“That’s why I challenge you to work with me, the Health Policy Authority and stakeholders to develop a plan – this year – to achieve universal coverage,” she said.

Her proposed budget includes $4 million in state funds to guarantee coverage for uninsured children up to age 5, but that recommendation was stopped last year by Republican lawmakers.

For King, whose agency provided services to more than 1,350 people last year, any expansion of health care would be welcome.