Health Care Reform Act major point of contention in Insurance Commissioner race

The biggest issue facing the Kansas Insurance Commissioner race is how each candidate plans to address the Health Care Reform Act.

On Aug. 3, two-time insurance commissioner Sandy Praeger will face David Powell of El Dorado who has 33-years of experience in the insurance business.

With no Democratic challenger, the winner of the Republican primary will be left to make sense of how to implement the legislation from the Health Care Reform Act, much of which is slated to go into effect in 2014. By then the state is required to have a health insurance exchange, which gives people a variety of plans to choose from including a public health insurance option.

Preparing Kansas for those changes is the main reason Praeger said she is running for a third term.

“It is just too busy of a time to walk away,” Praeger said.

Powell, who has read all 8,000 pages of the health care reform bill, believes the Kansas Attorney General should join the other states that are fighting to opt out of health care reform.

“There is nothing good in that,” Powell said of the act.

Powell criticizes the role Praeger played in determining that Kansas would manage its own program to offer insurance to those who have denied coverage because of preexisting conditions.

Kansas is among the 29 states that has agreed to manage its own high-risk insurance pool.

Powell fears that by agreeing to run the high-risk pool, the state has been put in a weaker legal position to oppose the Health Care Reform Act in court.

He also fears the state will run out of the $36 million it was given by the federal government to run the program. He predicts the state would be short at least a $100 million a year if it had to cover just a portion of the estimated 40,000 people that are estimated to be eligible for the program.

“If the federal government runs it and runs out of money, the state is not responsible,” Powell said. “If we run the pool and run out of money, Kansas taxpayers are on the hook.”

Praeger said the federal government agreed that states would not take on any financial liability in managing the program.

“It is whether or not we want to stay in control of it at the state level or if we want to abdicate to the feds and let them run it. And I just always think it’s better to keep the control local if we can,” Praeger said.

For the first six months, Praeger said the plan will have open enrollment. If demand is high, the program will limit enrollment.

“We are going to watch it closely and if we have to shut it down because we run out of money then that is what will have to happen,” Praeger said.

Of course there is much more to the office of insurance commissioner then preparing for health care reform.

Based on his three decades in the business, Powell said he has a number of ideas for improving the insurance industry. For example, he wants to see a universal application that companies can send to multiple insurance agencies. He also thinks the office should take a leading role in getting uninsured motorists off the road and that credit scores shouldn’t be used in determining a consumer’s insurance rates.

“I think its about time we put someone in office that knows insurance from the ground up,” Powell said.

Praeger sees her role as a regulator and her eight years in office as a success.

“The insurance department is there for consumers. That is our responsibility. We are there to make sure we have fair laws on the books and those laws are enforced effectively. And that we have a balance between consumer protection and creating a market place that has good products for consumers to buy,” Praeger said. “I think our department is doing a great job.”