Senate committee endorses health compact bill

by Dave Ranney, KHI News Service
Topeka — Several senators Tuesday spoke in favor of a House-passed bill that has the goal of Kansas officials eventually being able to take over federally funded health care programs, including Medicare, within the state’s borders.

“I think we’re headed in a direction here where the state of Kansas can do a better job,” said Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, a Grinnell Republican and chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.

“Some people seem to think the states can’t do this job, but I really believe the federal government can’t even hardly see us,” said Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican. “So I think we probably could handle this better here in this state than the federal government could.”

Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, said she thought state officials were likely to have more success eliminating Medicare fraud and abuse than their federal counterparts.

The nine-member committee – seven Republicans, two Democrats – approved House Bill 2553 on a voice vote, with the Democrats in opposition. The measure now goes to the full Senate.

Ostmeyer said he expected Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, to “carry” the bill during Senate debate, which has yet to be scheduled.

“This is a very simple bill,” said Pilcher-Cook, who testified in favor of the measure. “It simply addresses whether the state or the federal government gets to make decisions in regard to the citizens’ health care.”

Pilcher-Cook, one of the Legislature’s most vocal critics of Obamacare, said the bill was designed to “give back the freedoms” that were lost when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.

The bill would allow Kansas to join a multi-state compact, which, in turn, would ask the federal government to let its members run the federally funded health care programs – primarily Medicare and Medicaid – in their states.

The member states, Pilcher-Cook said, would be free to either adhere to the federal regulations or adopt their own standards.

A state-run system, she said, would be more efficient.

Before the compact could take effect, it would have to win approval in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, which doesn’t seem likely so long as Democrats control the Senate.

“This bill doesn’t do anything in the near future,” Pilcher-Cook said.

Also testifying in support of the bill were Reps. Brett Hildabrand, a Shawnee Republican, and Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Dan Tripp, a former South Carolina legislator-turned-consultant for a national group called Competitive Governance Action.

Tripp said eight states already have passed legislation for joining a compact.

Dave Wilson, a past volunteer president with AARP Kansas, testified against the bill, calling it frivolous and scary.

“I’m surprised to hear the same people who talk about the need for smaller government say they want to take this on,” Wilson said. “The potential exists for the state having to put a whole new structure, a whole new bureaucracy, in place. The proponents say that wouldn’t have to happen, but it’s a possibility and, I think, a danger.”

Wilson said there would be little to stop legislators from using Medicare to pay for Medicaid cost overruns.

Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, voiced his opposition.

“I know how this Legislature operates, I’ve been here 12 years,” he said. “I cannot imagine, quite honestly, that we would open up our Medicare beneficiaries to the shenanigans that the Legislature might pull when it comes up against financial issues in the future. I think this a very bad bill, and I will be voting no.”

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. More about the News Service is at khi.org/newsservice or contact 785-233-5443.
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