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Praeger, Kansas health organizations urging Brownback to veto health care compact bill

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TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger and several health care organizations urged Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday to veto legislation that would allow Kansas to join a multistate health care compact.

Praeger, who is not seeking re-election, said there were too many unknowns about the compact and what impact it may have on federal health programs in Kansas, including Medicare for senior citizens. She called the effort a "misguided" reaction by opponents of the health care law who are seeking to send a message to Washington and President Barack Obama.

"I think it was motivated by a decision to somehow make a statement," Praeger said at a news conference, where she was joined by officials with AARP. "This takes authority away from folks with no clear plan on how it would be administered."

The bill was introduced in the Kansas House by Rep. Brett Hildabrand, a Shawnee Republican. He and others argue the compact would give states more flexibility in determining health care for residents by receiving block grants of federal funds.

The compact measure would allow member states to set their own health care policies while retaining federal health care dollars and give participating states the ability to exempt themselves from other federal rules in addition to the health overhaul's regulations.

It hinges, however, on congressional approval, and for that to happen, Republicans would need to gain control of the U.S. Senate in November. The president isn't required to approve federal compact laws.

Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and a vocal supporter of the bill, said the insurance commissioner "needs to read the bill."

Pilcher-Cook said the measure merely brings Kansas into the compact, and that further action by the Legislature would be necessary for the state to assert control over any health care program, including Medicare.

"The Kansas Legislature more than likely will not touch Medicare," Pilcher-Cook said. "It does give us the freedom to get out from under the heavy regulation of Obamacare."

Brownback received the bill Monday and has until April 24 to act. The governor, who has been critical of the federal health care law, has said he was familiar with the legislation but hasn't announced his intentions publicly. Kansas would join seven states, including Texas and Missouri in adopting the compact. Similar bills were vetoed in Arizona and Washington.

Praeger said Brownback should veto the bill because of the unknown impact on benefits and costs the 450,000 Medicare recipients in Kansas.

"Better to be safe than sorry," she said.

The measure doesn't say how Medicare or other federal programs would be administered. Kansas made changes in its Medicaid program for the poor and disabled in 2013, establishing KanCare that's administered by three private insurance companies.

Supporters of the compact bill also have noted that the federal health overhaul was financed partly by cuts in Medicare payments to providers — mainly hospitals, health insurance companies and drugmakers. Pilcher-Cook said the compact would allow the state to step in and aid seniors.

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