Republicans introduce amendment to exempt Kansans from federal mandate to have health insurance

? A group of Republican lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that members said was aimed at blocking any federal requirement that Kansans buy health insurance.

The Republicans said the measure was needed because of the prospect of Democratic health reform passing in Congress and requiring health insurance coverage.

“We can provide health-care reform in our state without forcing citizens to take certain actions, and we can provide good health care in Kansas without putting citizens at risk of being sent to jail,” said state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee.

The “Kansas Health Care Freedom Amendment” is patterned after a proposal by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of state legislators. ALEC reports that 35 states have introduced or plan to introduce similar measures.

In a news release, ALEC stated that state constitutions may protect individual liberties to a greater extent than the U.S. Constitution. “This is the foundation of the effort in Kansas and elsewhere — that health care choice is a civil liberties issue,” said Christi Herrera, director of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force, which is coordinating the nationwide effort.

The Kansas GOP group pushing for the amendment included about 15 state legislators and three U.S. House members, Jerry Moran, Todd Tiahrt, and Lynn Jenkins. The amendment was introduced by Pilcher-Cook and state Reps. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, and Peggy Mast, R-Emporia.

After a news conference held in the House chamber, Glenda Overstreet, first vice president of the Kansas chapter of the NAACP, said the proposed amendment was “disingenuous.”

Without federal health care reform, insurers will continue to be able to drop coverage for pre-existing conditions and 300,000 Kansans already without insurance will have no opportunity to get coverage, she said.

“There shouldn’t be an individual in the United States that doesn’t have health care,” she said.

The proposal will be considered during a hearing on Tuesday. If approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, it would be put on the November ballot for Kansas voters to decide.