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Topeka A small army of politicians, policymakers, advisory boards and representatives of special interest groups is maneuvering to produce a major state health care reform package by Nov. 1.
By the numbers
Here are some statistics from a Demographic Survey of Uninsured Kansans, which was conducted by Barb Langner:¢ Percent of Kansans who do not have health insurance: 10.5 percent.¢ Percent of Douglas County residents who do not have health insurance: 9.3 percent.¢ Largest age group of Kansans without health insurance: 19- to 24-year-olds; 19.8 percent don't have coverage.¢ Largest percentage of uninsured Kansans by race or ethnicity: Hispanic; 26 percent don't have coverage.¢ Percent of employed Kansans who report their employer offers health insurance coverage: 80.6 percent.
"It will be the leading issue of the coming legislative session," said state Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, a physician and chairman of a legislative committee that oversees the Kansas Health Policy Authority.
As in other states across the nation, Kansas officials are trying to get a handle on the growing numbers of uninsured - totaling approximately 290,000 in Kansas, or 10.5 percent of the state's population - and skyrocketing health care costs.
Proposed solutions span the entire political spectrum from privatizing current government programs to putting government in charge of providing most health coverage.
Up to this point, Kansas lawmakers and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius have voted unanimously to establish the Kansas Health Policy Authority and embark on a path toward making insurance more affordable and available for Kansans.
But Marcia Nielsen, executive director of the Kansas Health Policy Authority, noted at a meeting last week, "It's going to start getting harder."
Nielsen said Kansans will need to take more responsibility for their own health care through lifestyle changes.
"Obesity and tobacco control are clearly at the top of the list," she said.
But if Kansans are required to be more responsible, she said, the government needs to provide them with more information so consumers can essentially comparison shop for the most cost-effective treatment and insurance.
"It's important for people to have skin in the game," she said.
Barnett said any health reform package must address the increasing costs of care caused by doctors practicing "defensive medicine" to avoid lawsuits.
"We're still skirting the nitty-gritty of what's driving costs," he said.
And House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said he has heard concerns from insurance agents that their interests are not represented on the various advisory councils working on the plan.
He said the insurers think the advisory groups were selected "to get a certain result."
But Nielsen said the Health Policy Authority was getting input from all stakeholders.