Gov. Sam Brownback would be taking a political risk by signing a bill that could eventually give state officials control of Medicare and other federal health care programs, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said Tuesday.
Praeger, a Republican in the final year of her third and final term, said because the bill could “jeopardize” the benefits of the nearly 450,000 Kansans enrolled in Medicare signing it could alienate senior voters.
“If I was the governor, I would want to be cautious,” Praeger said at a Statehouse news conference at which she urged Brownback to veto House Bill 2553.
The measure would authorize the state’s membership in a proposed compact that could be formed by states seeking to control how federal health care dollars are spent within their borders. The compact would require approval by Congress, which is considered unlikely as long as Democrats control the U.S. Senate.
Maren Turner, director of AARP Kansas, joined Praeger is calling for a veto of the bill. She said some legislators who supported the measure mistakenly viewed it as another symbolic opportunity to express their opposition to Obamacare.
“Some members of the Legislature seem determined to express their disdain for the ACA,” Turner said. “Placing the health care of Kansans in jeopardy is not the way to do it.”
But Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican who was one of the bill’s strongest supporters, criticized AARP for opposing the bill.
“AARP endorsed Obamacare,” she said, “and they’re making money from it. I would say they have a conflict of interest. If there are things we can do to protect the liberties of our Kansas citizens, then it’s incumbent that we do it.”
Kansas is the eighth state to endorse the compact, which if created as proposed would allow member states to receive federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars as block grants with no administrative strings attached, leaving them free to restructure the programs.
Praeger said it would be a mistake to assume that Congress would not sanction the compact. If Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate and retain control of the House in the upcoming mid-term elections it could happen, she said.
“I just don’t think you can trust that it’s not going to happen,” she said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Kansas Advocates for Better Care, a nonprofit organization that monitors the quality of Kansas nursing homes, opposes the compact legislation because of its potential to rollback safety regulations.
“If Kansas opts out of the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, Kansas will also opt out of reasonable health care standards and enforcement protections that benefit older Kansans, now and in the future,” said Barb Conant, a spokesperson for the organization.
Eileen Hawley, Brownback’s spokesperson, didn’t immediately respond to emails asking whether the governor planned to sign the bill.
But in an interview minutes after lawmakers cast their final vote on the measure, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer expressed strong support for it.
“Kansans do not support Obamacare,” Colyer said. “So things that allow states to come up with their own health care solutions, we’re very supportive of that.”
Brownback has until April 25 to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
Pilcher-Cook said she didn’t want to predict what he would do.
“I don’t ever try to predict what the governor’s going to do,” she said.
Jim McLean is a reporter with KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute.