Kansas Lawmakers Endorse One Health Compact; Reaffirm Second

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By John Celock

Kansas lawmakers moved forward with plans for the state to enter an interstate medical licensing compact, while defeating an effort to exit another health care compact.

The state House of Representatives on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to the medical licensing compact, which was called a win for rural communities after the debate devolved into a debate over the Affordable Care Act and a health care compact the state entered two years ago. A Democratic lawmaker unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have pulled the state from a health care compact that would give the state a block grant of federal health care funds in order to opt out of the national health care law.

Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita), the top Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, offered the amendment to opt out of the existing compact, saying that it was a “huge mistake” for the state to have entered the program. Ward argued that the compact would result in a block grant for Medicare funds to the state, and could result in a drop in Medicare payments to Kansas residents.

“This is bad for Medicare recipients,” Ward said. “That’s not me, that’s the Johnson County Commission on Aging saying that.”

Ward’s amendment was defeated 33-86.

Senior citizen groups and Democrats have long opposed the compact. Supporters have said that the compact would allow the state to have more control over health care spending. During the 2014 debate over the compact, then state Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, a moderate Republican who endorsed the Affordable Care Act, said the block grant would allow state officials to take funds from Medicare for other state needs. Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), the compact’s prime supporter, said in 2014 that the compact would require the block grant to be spent on health care.

Hildabrand used Tuesday’s debate to defend the compact, saying that it would help Medicare in the state. He said that the threat to Medicare was not the compact – which has not been approved by Congress – but rather the Affordable Care Act.

“I assert the fact that Obamacare is the threat to Medicare, not the health care compact,” Hildabrand said Tuesday. “The compact helps solidify the funding of Medicare.”

The debate over the two-year-old health care compact overshadowed the medical licensing compact. Under the terms of the bill, which was pushed by Rep. Jim Kelly (R-Independence), the state would join the 12 state compact that would allow for doctors licensed in one state to practice in Kansas and others. Kelly noted in his floor speech that doctors would have to adhere to the requirements from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts to practice in the state with out of state licenses.

Kelly said that the medical licensing compact would allow for an increase in telemedicine in rural Kansas from out-of-state doctors. He noted that Minnesota was a part of the compact, which would allow rural Kansas residents to consult with doctors from the Mayo Clinic.

Kelly was pushing the bill in response to the closure of the hospital in Independence, a fact cited during the debate over the Ward amendment. Ward, who has unsuccessfully been pushing the Medicaid expansion since last year, said that if the expansion had been passed the hospital could have been saved.

Supporters of the medical licensing compact said that the Ward amendment would have killed the entire compact, since the Kansas legislation would not be similar to the other states. Ward denied accusations that his amendment was a poison pill.

House Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee Chairman Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) argued that Ward’s amendment should be defeated in order to help Kelly’s bill survive.

“He lost his hospital and he is trying to get health care to his citizens,” Schwab said about Kelly. “He is the guy out there doing what is good for his district. He is trying to get health care to his citizens.”


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