Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that he wants to wait until after the November presidential election to move Kansas toward compliance with a key provision of the federal health care overhaul upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brownback told reporters that putting the 2010 health care law into effect in Kansas and other states is a political issue to be resolved by voters.
"If the American people don't want Obamacare, it's a political issue, and it's about this fall presidential race, whether or not you want to implement it," Brownback said. "I want to see what happens in the fall."
Brownback said that if GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney unseats Democratic President Barack Obama, who championed the law, states are no longer likely to face a requirement to set up exchanges to help consumers buy health insurance.
The federal law requires each state to operate an exchange by 2014, and plans must be submitted by Nov. 16 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kansas has not started to set one up because of opposition to the entire law by Brownback and fellow Republicans who dominate the Legislature.
Kansas has about 350,000 residents who don't have health insurance coverage, or 12.7 percent of the state's population, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. About 53,000 are children.
Last year, Brownback returned a $31.5 million federal grant to assist the state with the computer infrastructure for an exchange.
Brownback said if Romney is elected, states are likely to get a blanket waiver from the requirement to have exchanges. Under the law, the federal government could operate its own exchange if a state refused to set one up.
The Supreme Court decision is likely to frustrate and anger many Kansas Republicans. Freshman U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a GOP conservative, promised to work for the law's repeal and called Thursday "a definitive date in the advance of government tyranny."
But Kansas House Insurance Committee Chairman Clark Shultz, a Lindsborg Republican, said state officials ought to at least discuss what options Kansas has should an exchange be required.
"It seems that we should at least have something in mind on how we go forward if we need to," Shultz said.
Insurance Department officials, under Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger's supervision, have said they don't believe the state would have enough time to develop its own exchange. They have suggested that Kansas could seek a partnership with the federal government or have the federal government run the exchange.
Praeger, a Republican, didn't touch on those issues in the statement she issued immediately after the law was upheld.
"The law will be refined as we go forward just as many laws are, but it establishes as public policy the importance of everyone in this country having access to affordable health care," Praeger said.
But she also acknowledged: "We are going to have to wait, however, to see what the November election holds regarding the law's long-term future."