- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Conservative Republicans worked Friday to lessen concerns that seniors would lose some Medicare benefits if Kansas joined a compact of states seeking to exempt themselves from the federal health care overhaul.

The Kansas House gave first-round approval to a bill bringing Kansas into a compact in which member states would set health care policy and retain federal health care dollars, if Congress approved. The House’s voice vote sets up another, final vote Monday to determine whether the bill goes to the Senate.

AARP is lobbying against the bill because the compact would allow participating states to exempt themselves from other federal rules in addition to the health overhaul’s regulations. The state could assert control over Medicare, which covers 450,000 Kansas seniors, even though the federal government funds the program. And AARP sees the potential for cuts in benefits.

The bill’s supporters accused critics of trying to create unfounded fears among seniors, but questions about Medicare resonated with some Republicans.

“This bill is initially meant for us, especially on my side of the aisle, to make a strong statement in opposition to Obamacare. This is a statement I would like to make,” said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Overland Park Republican. “I also want to make a strong statement in support of our seniors.”

Supporters of the bill said allowing Kansas to join the compact and giving it control over Medicare ultimately would help seniors. The federal health overhaul was financed partly with cuts in Medicare payments to providers - mainly hospitals, health insurance companies and drugmakers.

“The health care compact helps to protect the future of Medicare,” said Rep. Brett Hildabrand, a conservative Shawnee Republican and the bill’s main sponsor.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat and a vocal critic of the compact bill, offered an amendment to include a provision explicitly excluding Medicare. House members voted 61-57 against it, but 29 of the chamber’s 92 Republicans, including Clayton, supported it. Seven House members were absent - enough to tip the outcome.

Eight other states, including Missouri and Texas, have enacted similar legislation, according to the Houston group pushing the idea.

Most Kansas Republicans, including Gov. Sam Brownback, are vocal critics of the 2010 federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat. GOP critics view the health overhaul as burdensome and damaging to the economy.

The compact has appeal among conservative Republicans because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t require a president’s approval for a multistate compact after Congress assents. But even some supporters don’t see Congress approving a compact unless Republicans capture control of the U.S. Senate in this year’s elections.

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Information about the compact bill: http://bit.ly/N6BWsQ

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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