TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is joining a proposed compact with other states that hope to exempt themselves from the federal health care overhaul, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday rejected criticism that the move will jeopardize seniors’ benefits.
Brownback announced Wednesday that he quietly signed a compact bill late Tuesday and the new law will take effect July 1. The GOP-dominated Legislature passed the measure earlier this month.
The compact would let participating states remove themselves from federal health regulations if Congress consents. It was prompted by Republicans’ opposition to the 2010 health care law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama.
However, the compact language is broad enough to cover Medicaid, which provides health coverage to the needy and disabled, and Medicare, which provides coverage for seniors. It would not cover health care for veterans, active military personnel or Native Americans.
The possibility that member states could seek an exemption from Medicare rules led AARP to lobby against the measure. The organization along with state Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, perhaps the only prominent Kansas Republican to publicly defend the federal health overhaul, urged Brownback to veto the measure, arguing the compact would permit state lawmakers to cut benefits for the 450,000 seniors participating in Medicare.
Supporters said the bill merely gives states control over health care policy and seniors’ benefits aren’t in danger. Many Republicans argued the federal health care overhaul is a far bigger threat to Medicare because it was financed partly with cuts in Medicare payments to providers — mainly hospitals, health insurance companies and drugmakers.
Brownback said in a statement that he’d oppose any effort by the state to reduce Medicare benefits if the compact takes effect.
“The Health Care Compact will allow states to restore and protect Medicare for generations to come,” Brownback said. “Obamacare is the most serious attack on Medicare and seniors since the program’s inception.”
But Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat hoping to unseat Brownback in this year’s governor’s race, called the compact “irresponsible” and said Brownback ignored “calls for commonsense leadership.”
“We should not threaten the care of hundreds of thousands of seniors,” Davis said in a statement.
Eight other states, including Missouri and Texas, have enacted similar legislation, according to Competitive Governance Action, the Houston group pushing the idea. The group describes itself on its website as a nonprofit that advocates state control over health care and having problems solved “by the smallest, least centralized, most local authority.”
The compact would not take effect unless Congress also agreed to it, and critics of the Kansas bill have questioned whether that would happen, particularly if Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate.
The compact proposal relies on an obscure provision in the U.S. Constitution that requires congressional approval for multistate agreements. It doesn’t give the president a role, making the idea attractive for some critics of the health care overhaul.
New compact law: http://bit.ly/1f6oPF9
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
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