Health care compromise applauded on both sides of the aisle
The 2007 legislative session featured stark differences on the health care reform front.
For example, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, called for universal health coverage while a group of House Republicans sought to privatize Medicaid.
Neither happened, but from those beginnings was forged a compromise that had all sides claiming victory and promising to continue the fight.
"We're on the right course when it comes to health care," House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, of Greensburg, said. "It's careful, it's incremental."
House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said, "We started by saying the Republicans were interested in moving ahead on the health agenda. We've put together a great step into the future to move toward the goal that we started ... that is, what do we do to keep Kansas healthier?"
Even the Kansas Health Policy Authority, which spent the session getting knocked back and forth between opposing camps, praised the Legislature's work.
"I am thrilled that both the Senate and House recognized the importance of providing health coverage to Kansans, and working together, we are one step closer in the mile-long race to providing access to quality and affordable health care to all Kansans," said Marci Nielsen, executive director of the authority.
The Legislature has agreed to a general health care bill that includes several smaller initiatives, and leaves the big decisions on how to extend coverage to 300,000 uninsured Kansans to a later date.
The legislation requires final approval when lawmakers return for the wrap-up session April 25 before it can be sent to Sebelius for her consideration.
"The Legislature has had some promising discussions on health care, now it's time to close the deal," Sebelius said Friday.
Here is what is included:
- Starting in 2009, the state plans to lower the income eligibility level for adults to receive approximately $3,200 per year for health insurance. By 2012, the state would be spending $77 million annually to cover 24,000 people.
- Allowing more Kansans to set aside pre-tax income for health care expenses, and for the state to make no-interest loans to help small businesses form associations to purchase employee health plans.
- Authorization to study an overhaul of Medicaid, which serves about 250,000 Kansans, and on a state "connector" plan through which Kansans could purchase health insurance.
- Expanded health screenings for newborns.
While Sebelius has endorsed many of the bill's proposals, she said she still is unhappy that her recommendation to guarantee coverage for all children from birth through 5 years old hasn't been acted on.
"Every child deserves a healthy start in life," Sebelius said. "Insuring these children now will save their families money and heartache down the road."
Lawmakers opposed to that measure said it would be too expensive and would extend coverage to some children whose parents are earning enough to afford private coverage.