Topeka Kansas officials are preparing for the federal health care reform law while at the same time state leaders are fighting it tooth and nail.
On Tuesday, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger and Kansas Health Policy Authority Executive Director Andrew Allison said the state was taking the necessary organizational steps to position itself for expansion of coverage under the new law.
“We are doing everything we have to do to stay on track,” Praeger said.
Currently, there are about 340,000 Kansans without health insurance.
Meanwhile, Praeger’s Republican colleagues are trying to derail President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation.
A key state legislator said she will renew efforts to pass a measure aimed at blocking the federal requirement that Kansans buy health insurance.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said she planned to reintroduce the measure when the Legislature convenes its 2011 session next month.
During the 2010 legislative session, Landwehr pushed for passage of the Kansas Health Care Freedom Amendment, which would have amended the Kansas Constitution to prohibit the state from requiring any individual or business to buy health insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has a section that requires most Americans to have health care insurance, starting in 2014, or pay a penalty assessed on their federal income taxes. The requirement is a key part of the legislation and is being battled in court.
Landwehr’s measure failed earlier this year to get the votes necessary to put it on the ballot. Proposed constitutional amendments require a two-thirds margin in the House and Senate before they can be placed before voters. Republicans, however, will have a much larger majority next session in the House, 92-33 over Democrats, up from 79-46.
Landwehr also said she was exploring the possibility of making the proposal simply a change in state law, which would require simple majorities in the House and Senate, and the signature of the governor.
Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, a Republican who takes office Jan. 10, has been a vocal opponent of the federal health reform law and has joined a legal challenge to the law. And Attorney General-elect Derek Schmidt, a Republican, said he would file a legal challenge to the reform, describing it as an “unprecedented power grab” by the federal government.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, and a member of the Kansas House Health and Human Services Committee, said it will be difficult to stop passage of the health care freedom proposal, but he argued the insurance requirement is reasonable.
It was put into the bill to prevent insurance premiums “from going through the roof,” Ward said. If the requirement is removed, he asked, “How do we control premiums? How do we get these people showing up at emergency rooms without coverage to pay their fair share and be responsible? It’s a good debate to have.”
Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, whose membership includes 39 health safety-net clinics, said she believes state officials are moving forward based on what the current law says.
“If things change, we’ll adjust,” Harding said.
She said most major pieces of legislation are altered as conditions change. “Everyone expects the law to change. How much, no one knows,” she said.
On Monday, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the federal requirement to have insurance was unconstitutional. Two other judges, however, have upheld the law.
Insurance Commissioner Praeger said, “This is going to be decided way down the line and probably at the U.S. Supreme Court.”