While healthcare debate rages, Kansas officials enact reforms

? Republican gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback, his lieutenant governor running mate and the GOP nominee for attorney general have vowed, if elected, to fight “Obamacare.”

Meanwhile, however, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, also a Republican, is working to implement the new health reform law.

“We have tried to remain nonpartisan in our approach both during the debate on the various bills and now as we work to implement this new law,” said Praeger.

“It is not perfect, but it does have new consumer protections and benefits that we need to ensure are implemented fairly and effectively,” said Praeger, a longtime state and national leader on health care issues.

Brownback and his running mate, state Sen. Jeff Colyer, R-Overland Park, have called for repeal of the health reform law, saying it will break the state budget, “threatening every other priority in state government.” As a U.S. senator, Brownback voted against the bill that was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Holland has criticized Brownback’s position. “Once again, Senator Brownback is saying he wants to drastically change something that impacts hundreds of thousands of Kansans, but he won’t say how,” Holland said.

An independent study done for the state projected that 200,000 Kansans who don’t have health insurance now will get it under the new law.

Brownback has cited another study that says Kansas will be hit with between $160 million to $280 million in new Medicaid costs. But that same study also says that federal spending on health care in Kansas is expected to increase by $3.5 billion.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, is making opposition of the new law the major focus of his campaign for attorney general. He has promised to join a lawsuit by other Republican attorneys general against the act or file a separate legal action.

“This power grab by the federal government is unprecedented in American legal history,” Schmidt said.

His Democratic opponent, Attorney General Steve Six, has declined to file a lawsuit, saying there is little chance that litigation alleging the law is unconstitutional would be successful. And if the courts declared the law unconstitutional, the decision would also apply to Kansas, so the state doesn’t need to go through the costs of litigation, Six has said.

Dick Cauchi, a health program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, says some states have adopted measures to reflect opposition to the health reform law, but it remains to be seen what impact those actions will have.

“There is a raging debate about how much a state can contradict federal law,” Cauchi said.

Meanwhile, Praeger’s office is quietly going about the task of doing what needs to be done under the law.

The law gives states the option of running a federally funded high-risk insurance pool, or letting the federal government administer it. The pool is a temporary measure to provide help to people who have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. In 2014, insurance companies will be required to cover everyone regardless of medical history. Kansas is one of 29 states that has decided to administer the high-risk pool at the state level.

And on Jan. 1, 2013, states must notify the federal government about whether they will run their own health insurance exchange or let federal officials oversee them. The goal of these exchanges is to provide more competition in the insurance marketplace.

Kansas Insurance Department officials say that despite the political rhetoric swirling around the issue of health reform, they are proceeding with implementation of the new legislation because it is now the law of the land.