Some Republican lawmakers want to free Kansas from the Affordable Care Act.
By Bryan Lowry
Eagle Topeka bureau
Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, says he has found the possible escape route. But others say his map leads nowhere.
House Bill 2553 would commit Kansas to join a health care compact. States in the compact could theoretically receive the same amount of federal funding as allotted for the Affordable Care Act, but would have discretion on how to use it and what regulations to enforce.
But the compact would need to be approved by Congress to secure any funding or hold any authority, and even Hildabrand says that is unlikely in the near future. Some Democrats have dismissed the bill as a symbolic gesture without any substance.
The bill was advanced by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee without debate Thursday.
“I had no idea it was going to be that quick,” Hildabrand said. “Obviously, there was the opportunity for debate. Nobody spoke up or had any questions.”
Hildabrand, who conceived the plan with Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, said his bill is meant to be a practical solution rather than ideological statement.
“I truly do believe that it’s a practical bill. I think as time goes on, as we see some of the exemptions that have been given to Obamacare, as we see those removed, I think more and more people will be looking to get out of Obamacare any way possible,” he said.
Hildabrand said that he has received positive feedback from his constituents. The bill was drafted from model legislation designed by Competitive Governance Action, an organization based in Houston.
Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, one of two committee members to vote against the bill, said it was meant as a slap in the face to President Obama. He questioned its value to Kansas taxpayers, given that it is unlikely to receive congressional approval.
“They’re making a political statement,” Ruiz said. “To me it’s just symbolic and a waste of time.”
As of Monday, House members had filed 297 bills this session, according to Legislative Services.
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, complained last week that a member of his caucus did not understand the fiscal cost to print and hear legislation. He said that he would like caucus members to follow “Ray’s Rules,” a set of guidelines he distributes to his members.
“Always Ask: Are my efforts addressing job creation and the economy? Are they shrinking the size of our state government while providing essential services and expanding liberty? If not, why am I doing it. … Why are we doing it?” the first rule reads.
Hildabrand said his compact bill, his main piece of legislation this session, follows “Ray’s Rules.”
“This is the big one. I actually think it’s an economic growth and jobs bill, really when you look at it, because small businesses are very concerned about the impact of Obamacare on them,” Hildabrand said. “So I think this is good economically for the state of Kansas as well as the health care component.”
He also said he has received many calls from Kansans who have seen their work hours cut because of the Affordable Care Act.
Ruiz called the plan an election year stunt.
Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said in a phone call Monday that furor over the Affordable Care Act would help sway younger voters who might be upset with the party’s stance on social issues to vote for Republicans in November.
The Affordable Care Act has been a frequent target at the Capitol this session. Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, chair of the Public Health and Welfare Committee, held hearings in January about the act’s impact on Kansas businesses.
Asked about his hesitation to expand Medicaid as called for in the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement Monday that criticized the Obama administration’s rollout of the act.
“Obamacare is fundamentally flawed and the disastrous rollout is just another indicator of the problems we will continue to see,” Brownback said in an e-mail. “My first priority is to extend KanCare to those who need it most: Kansans with disabilities on waiting lists for services.”
Brownback, unlike some governors in other states, has said that Medicaid expansion requires legislative approval.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, introduced bills both last and this session to expand Medicaid. Neither has been given a hearing.
Ward said Kansans had already paid for Medicaid expansion with their federal tax dollars. He called the hold off on expansion morally wrong.
“And then in this building where we’re supposed to debate the great ideas facing our state, to deny people the right to petition their government for redress of this wrong, I don’t know how they (Republicans) look themselves in the mirror,” Ward said.
Ward’s bills have not yet been scheduled for a hearing. Hildabrand’s bill will head to the House floor.