Kansas lawmakers approve plan for health compact

Heath Care Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have given their final approval to a bill bringing the state into a compact with others hoping to become exempt from the federal health care overhaul.

The state Senate approved the measure on a 29-11 vote Friday night. The House approved the bill last month, and it goes to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

A Houston group pushing for a compact says eight other states have enacted similar laws. They include Missouri and Texas.

The compact would not take effect unless Congress also agreed to it.

Brownback wouldn’t say Friday whether he’ll sign the bill. But he and most other Republican officials in Kansas are strong opponents of the federal health care law.

Critics of the bill question whether Congress would approve a compact.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

A bill that would bring Kansas into a compact with other states hoping to become exempt from the federal health care overhaul won first-round approval in the Senate on Friday, putting it only one vote away from clearing the Legislature.

Senators advanced the measure on a voice vote and were expected to take final action later Friday. Because the House passed the bill last month, final Senate approval would send it to Gov. Sam Brownback.

Eight other states, including Missouri and Texas, have enacted similar legislation, according to the Houston group pushing the idea. 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 with President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats controlling the U.S. Senate.

The governor wouldn’t say Friday whether he’ll sign the measure. He said he’s familiar with the compact concept in general, but as for the bill, he said, “I haven’t been through it enough to know.”

Brownback and most other Republican officials in Kansas are strong critics of the 2010 federal health care overhaul championed by Obama. The GOP-controlled Legislature blocked Kansas from expanding its Medicaid program for the needy and disabled as encouraged by the federal law or setting up an online health insurance marketplace.

Most Republicans view the federal health care law as intrusive, burdensome and likely to harm the economy. They’ve said repeatedly that the rocky rollout of the federal online marketplace’s website confirmed their fears.

The proposal for a compact of states seeking to avoid the federal health care law relies on an obscure provision in the U.S. Constitution that requires congressional approval for such multistate agreements. The provision doesn’t give the president a role, making the idea attractive for some critics of the health care overhaul.

The compact also would allow the member states to seek an exemption from other health care regulations. They include regulations for Medicaid, which is funded jointly by the states and federal government, and even Medicare, which provides health coverage for seniors and is fully financed by the federal government.

“It would allow the state of Kansas to once again be back in control,” said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a conservative Republican.

Even some supporters don’t see Congress approving a compact unless Republicans capture control of the U.S. Senate in this year’s elections. Many critics see the proposal only as political symbolism.

Obama and other supporters of the health care law argue that it’s bringing health coverage to millions of Americans who have been uninsured. They’ve also argued that some provisions, such as barring insurers from denying coverage over pre-existing medical conditions, embody popular ideas.

Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, suggested the bill would allow member states to set up a bureaucracy to oversee health care programs, work in concert with large corporations and shield decision-making from public scrutiny. He predicted that a compact would turn health care over to a small “cabal.”

“This is a real song and dance being sold to you,” Holland said.

AARP has lobbied against the bill because the compact would allow participating states to exempt themselves from regulations for Medicare, which covers 450,000 Kansas seniors. AARP sees the potential for cuts in benefits, though supporters of the bill described the group’s arguments as scare tactics.

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