TOPEKA A proposal to allow Kansas to exempt itself from the national health care overhaul is a serious attempt to shield the state from federal requirements and not merely symbolic, supporters said Thursday as the measure cleared its first significant legislative hurdle.
The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a bill to bring the state into a compact with others to ask Congress to give them control over health care policy within their borders. The Republican-dominated committee's voice vote came after no debate and sends the measure to the entire House for debate, possibly early next month.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has shown a strong antipathy toward the federal health overhaul championed by President Barack Obama. Most GOP officials in Kansas have said repeatedly that the 2010 law represents an overreach by the federal government and has imposed burdensome mandates that harm the economy.
Some critics of the federal health overhaul are advocating an interstate compact because such an agreement wouldn't require the president's signature once Congress approves it. But most supporters have conceded that congressional approval of a compact isn't likely unless Republicans capture control of the U.S. Senate in this year's elections.
AARP's Kansas chapter has labeled the measure "frivolous," and Democrats contend it amounts to a public protest against the president's signature domestic policy. But Rep. Brett Hildabrand, a conservative Shawnee Republican and the bill's chief advocate in the House, said as Kansans are looking for "any way possible to get out from underneath these federal programs."
"This is far from symbolic," he said after the committee's meeting.
Eight other states have enacted similar compact 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.
Obama and other supporters of the federal health care law contend that it's bringing affordable health coverage to Americans who haven't been able to obtain it or keep it. They've also argued that parts of the law already are popular, such as allowing parents to keep young-adult children on their plans or preventing companies from denying coverage over pre-existing medical conditions.
"It is the law of the land," said state Rep. Louis Ruiz of Kansas City, the House committee's ranking Democrat. "When are they going to realize that it is the law?"
In 2011, Kansas enacted a largely symbolic "health care freedom" law to protest the federal overhaul's mandate that most Americans purchase health insurance. Opposition from GOP state officials toward the federal law kept Kansas from setting up its own online health insurance marketplace and has blocked an expansion of the state's Medicaid program as encouraged by the overhaul.
Many Kansas Republicans had predicted 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. They're hoping problems with the health care law's implementation lead to a shift of power in Washington.
"I do not like nationalized anything," said state Rep. Marty Read, a Mound City Republican who supports the bill. "I'm going to fight it as long as I can."
AARP opposed the bill partly because it's broad enough that states in the interstate compact could seek to assume control within their borders over Medicare, which provides health coverage for seniors, as well as Medicaid, which provides coverage for the needy and disabled.
And House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who's running for governor this year, said supporters of the bill would do better focusing on creating jobs, reining in local property taxes and boosting funding for public schools.
Davis said of the bill's supporters, "It's folks that aren't really focused the issues that really matter Kansans and issues they can do something about."