Government & Politics

Measure aims to cut Kansas out of health overhaul

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach The Kansas City Star

Conservative Republican state officials who oppose the federal health care overhaul told Kansas legislators Tuesday that they can position the state to opt out of its requirements.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach and two GOP legislators urged the House Federal and State Affairs Committee Tuesday 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.

Strong GOP antipathy toward the Democratic president's signature domestic policy has kept the state from expanding its Medicaid program as encouraged by the overhaul and led Kansas to forgo creating its own online health insurance marketplace. The bill is a step toward allowing states to claim a blanket exemption from all federal health care laws, and it's being pursued by opponents of the federal health overhaul across the nation.

The lawmakers pushing the bill were Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook and Rep. Brett Hildabrand, both of Shawnee. But many other Republican legislators and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback have been highly critical of the federal health law championed by President Barack Obama.

Congress would have to approve the compact and cede power to the states on health care. Compact supporters argue it's a possibility if Republicans win control of both chambers in this year's elections. They're also pushing for a compact because congressional ratification wouldn't require the president's signature.

"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 state AARP spokesman David Wilson predicted that Congress would never approve the compact.

"It is a frivolous measure that does not nothing at best and at worst puts seniors, Kansans with disabilities and children at risk," Wilson said.

The compact is the project of Competitive Governance Action, a Houston-based group, which says on its website that it favors the devolution of government power. According to the group, eight states, including Missouri and Texas, already have enacted compact laws.

The language of the compact 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. The last possibility prompted strong opposition from AARP's Kansas chapter.