- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Democrat Dennis Anderson Friday criticized an interstate health care compact that would give Kansas control of Medicare within its borders, while his Republican opponent Ken Selzer backed the idea as a way to get the program out of the federal government during a face-to-face encounter in the race for state insurance commissioner.

The compact measure passed by the Kansas Legislature and signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in April 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. President Barack Obama would also need to sign it, said Curtis Ellis, spokesman for the compact project. Nine states have approved it to date, and others are considering it.

“The basic core of it says we are going to bring back about $7 billion in a block grant to Kansas, rather than Medicare being paid as it is,” Anderson said of the health care program for the elderly. “I haven’t found any senior citizens out there who are unhappy with the way their Medicare is handled right now.”

But Selzer assured the audience of about 60 insurance agents at a conference of the Kansas Association of Insurance Agents that there are a huge number of built-in safeguards in the compact plan and people should “let it be played out because we can bring decision making closer to home where it belongs and do it more efficiently than the federal government.”

Both candidates agreed the health compact is a legislative issue, but forum moderator Bob Fee pointed out a lot of things that aren’t insurance commissioner issues do affect people and the public needs an advocate for them in Topeka. The candidates are vying for the seat left open by Republican Sandy Praeger, a vocal opponent of the health care compact who has long warned that allowing Kansas to opt out of the health care overhaul would jeopardize Medicare funding for seniors.

Anderson argued that if the costs of a state-run Medicare program is higher than the block grant it received from the federal government, then that would create budgetary problems at a time there is already a lot of uncertainty about the state budget.

“The other thing people need to realize is that seniors would surrender the guaranteed benefits that they currently enjoy under Medicare,” Anderson said.

But Selzer noted that Brownback said when he signed the bill earlier this year that Medicare would not be changed.

The Kansas Legislature passed the compact legislation as a protest against the health care reform law, Anderson said, noting that the Legislature has also refused to expand the separate Medicaid program for the poor.

“So as a protest against the Affordable Care Act, we don’t provide medical care for the poor, we deny dollars to our rural hospitals, but we disrupt the care of our seniors - and that is good policy? It seems politics get in the way of the practical taking care of people,” Anderson said.

Both candidates also disagree on whether the Medicaid program for the poor should be expanded in Kansas. Anderson believes it should be, while Selzer opposes the expansion.

On Saturday, supporters of Medicaid expansion in Kansas are joining activists in 13 other states for joint “death count” vigils designed to draw attention to the number of people who could die each year from preventable health problems if their states do not expand Medicaid.


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