Kansas House approves joining health care compact

Kansas state Rep. Brian Whipple, left, a Wichita Democrat, confers with House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, during a House debate on a bill to bring Kansas into a compact with other states seeking to exempt themselves from the federal health care law, Friday, March 21, 2014, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Democrats see the bill as political symbolism. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The future is murky for a House-passed bill that would allow Kansas to join a compact of states seeking an exemption from the federal health care overhaul.

The measure, approved 74-48 by the House on Monday, seeks to add Kansas to a list of states, including Missouri and Texas, that have approved forming the compact. But a key Senate leader said that there may not be enough time to consider the bill before the session ends.

Legislators adjourn April 4 for a three-week spring break and return later that month to consider any unfinished business.

The Senate committee that would traditionally hear the bill isn’t scheduled to meet for the rest of the year, Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Nickerson Republican, said. He didn’t know where the measure would end up in the coming days.

The compact would allow member states to set their own health care policies while retaining federal health care dollars, but only if Congress approves. The compact would allow participating states to exempt themselves from other federal rules in addition to the health overhaul’s regulations.

Joining the compact could have implications for some 450,000 Kansas residents who participate in the federal Medicare program if benefits would be cut and increase their out-of-pocket expenses. It also could increase the cost to Kansas taxpayers, warned one GOP House member.

“These programs would significantly increase the size and scope of state government,” said Rep. Don Schroeder, a Hesston Republican.

Supporters say giving Kansas more control over Medicare would ultimately help senior citizens. However, critics of the compact say residents could lose benefits and pay higher costs.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said the measure would largely be symbolic since the compact is unlikely to win approval in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Democrats who have staunchly defended the health care overhaul.

“It seems like an exercise in futility,” said Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

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