Finch: State needs health care reform, but beware of hidden costs

By State Rep. Blaine Finch, Speaker Pro Tem

Greetings from the Statehouse on this first day of spring. Hopefully the snow is behind us for now and we can move on to enjoying some time outside. The legislature is working through its “to-do list” as it nears the end of the regular session. Each year, the legislature takes a short break between regular session and veto session to allow time for the Governor to review and consider bills that have passed both chambers. But, there is still a lot of work to do between now and the break.

The one job the legislature is constitutionally required to do each year is to pass a budget for the state. For many years that job has been delayed until after the new revenue forecasts were announced during the April break. This year our budget committees are working hard to get that budget out of committee and approved before the break. This allows for a more thorough review by all legislators, more public input, and ultimately a shorter veto session when we come back to the Capitol.

Most of this week was taken up with committees working to get Senate bills reviewed, heard and worked ahead of the Friday deadline for committees to meet. Next week will see longer days on the floor of the House debating those bills. Then conference committees will meet to work out differences in the House and Senate versions.

We saw the passage of several health care bills this week, including one that would allow pharmacists to help patients administer certain injectable medications that might be difficult for a patient to do at home. We also passed legislation that prohibits life insurance companies from discriminating against living organ donors, such as those who give the gift of life by donating a kidney.

We also took up House Bill 2066, which would have allowed advanced practice registered nurses to practice without physician oversight. That bill was gutted on the House floor and replaced with Medicaid expansion. The House passed expansion today by a vote of 69-54. This is a conversation that has been going on for several years now. I have had concerns about the uncertain price tag of this policy, the transition of 55,000 Kansans from private insurance to government healthcare, the fact that the bulk of the dollars will not go to rural hospitals that are struggling, and the possibility that expansion could end if the federal government changes the reimbursement percentage it currently pays. Chief among my concerns is the potential crowd out of Kansans who are already covered by Medicaid – that includes seniors, the disabled, children in low-income families, low-income pregnant women and very low-income adults – some of whom are on waiting lists for services. With expansion, work-eligible adults would jump the line, becoming eligible for services before those who have been waiting. Those concerns remain unaddressed in the plan that was brought to the House floor.

We all agree that our nation’s health care system needs fixed. Costs for care, costs for insurance, costs for prescriptions are all too high and there are too many who struggle to afford care. We need reform at the national level through policies like increased Medicare reimbursements, more open competition in the market among insurance providers, limits on the amount that can be charged for certain prescriptions, and thoughtful and deliberate programs to help our rural hospitals adapt to population changes and the changing modes of offering care. Closer to home we can further increase some provider reimbursements, change the way we use current Medicaid dollars to better help mothers and children, add funding for community mental health centers, and take a fraction of the money expansion would cost to create a stabilization and rescue fund for our rural hospitals. Most of these are actively being considered, and I believe we can achieve greater outcomes for our families and our hospitals through a Kansas solution that includes cost-effective strategies like these.

Health care is a complex problem and no single policy will address all of the challenges we face, not even expansion. We should be extra cautious when expanding a government program because they are rarely reduced and often do not contain incentives to ensure improvement and innovation for the benefit of those who use them.

I welcome your thoughts and want to help you if you need assistance with any state agency. Please don’t hesitate to give me a call or send an email. My number is 785-291-3500 and my email is [email protected]. Thank you for the honor of serving you as your representative.

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