TOPEKA Kansas Republicans who loathe the federal health care overhaul have embraced a national movement aimed at helping states opt out of its requirements, but backers conceded Tuesday that the effort depends on a power shift in Congress.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach and two GOP legislators urged the House Federal and State Affairs Committee to pass a bill bringing Kansas into a compact among states to assert control over health care policy within their borders. The committee could vote on the measure later this week.
"You would be able to address the specific medical care needs of Kansans instead of having to labor under the regulations established by a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy in Washington," Kobach, a former law professor, told the committee.
But the compact can't take effect without congressional approval, and supporters acknowledged that's unlikely with President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate.
"It is a frivolous measure that does nothing at best and at worst puts seniors, Kansans with disabilities and children at risk," David Wilson, a spokesman for AARP's Kansas chapter, told the committee.
Eight other states have enacted similar laws, including Missouri and Texas, according to Competitive Governance Action, the Houston-based group advocating the interstate compact. The group says on its website that "consolidated power" in Washington is a threat to the nation, and it also favors repealing the amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitting a federal income tax.
The group and other compact supporters are pushing the idea because congressional ratification of the interstate agreement wouldn't require the president's signature.
The compact language is broad enough that the states could seek to exempt themselves from federal rules regarding Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the needy and disabled, and Medicare, which provides coverage for the elderly.
Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said the compact, if approved by Congress, would allow states to "simply rewind the clock" on health care policy. Because Congress would consent to the compact, member states still would receive federal health care funds.
The other lawmaker pushing the bill, Rep. Brett Hildabrand, also a Shawnee Republican, told the committee: "The topic of health care is too large and too complex of an issue for a cookie-cutter approach to be applied broadly across the nation. That is why health care needs to be addressed at the state level."
Supporters of the federal law, including Obama, argue that it's helping Americans find affordable health coverage, but GOP lawmakers in Kansas and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback have been highly critical. They view the law's mandates as burdensome, harmful to the economy and an overreaching extension of federal power.
The antipathy of GOP state officials has kept Kansas from expanding its Medicaid program as encouraged by the overhaul or setting up its own online health insurance marketplace. Kansas also enacted a largely symbolic "health care freedom" law at Pilcher-Cook's urging in 2011 to protest the federal overhaul's mandate that most Americans purchase health insurance.
Many Kansas Republicans had predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the law; instead, a majority of justices upheld most of it in 2012. GOP critics of the overhaul then pinned their hopes on Obama losing re-election, but he won a second term.
Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat who is skeptical of the latest proposal, said promises that a compact would allow Kansas to assert control over health care policy are "speculative."
"All these are dreams," she said.