GOP delegates pass strong anti-reform resolution

Party takes position against linking new Medicaid eligibility system to controversial health purchasing exchange

0 | Legislature

Steve Shute addresses a meeting of the Kansas Republican Party.

Steve Shute addresses a meeting of the Kansas Republican Party.

— The Kansas Republican Party on Saturday passed a resolution that called for an immediate halt to efforts underway to link the state’s Medicaid program with a health insurance exchange required by the federal health reform law.

The resolution appeared to pass unanimously.

“This draws a line in the sand, ladies and gentlemen,” said Steve Shute, a delegate who introduced the resolution during the state GOP’s summer meeting at Hotel at Old Town Conference Center.

“This is the time when Kansas stands up and says, ‘ObamaCare is gone in the State of Kansas, and we will not go any further,’” Shute said, prompting a round of enthusiastic applause from the party’s 165 delegates.

The resolution followed Gov. Sam Brownback’s announcement last week that he and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer had decided to return a $31.5 million “early innovator” grant meant to help Kansas officials create an insurance purchasing exchange. A significant part of that grant was also being used to design a new Medicaid eligibility system and link it to the exchange, a Web-based marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to purchase private health insurance, many with help from federal subsidies, starting in 2014.

Shute said the resolution doesn’t call for stopping work on the Medicaid eligibility system, just activities specifically intended to integrate it with the exchange.

“There needs to be a Medicaid safety net for those who truly can’t afford their health insurance costs,” said Shute, who’s an IT systems administrator with the Sisters of Charity Health System office in Lenexa and who’s also active in the Tea Party.

The resolution says the state’s acceptance of any federal money for developing or implementing an ACA-compliant exchange, including “components related to Medicaid,” would undermine the legal challenge to the law that it and 25 other states have filed.

Initially, GOP delegates were expected to vote on at least five resolutions that were critical of Affordable Care Act, supportive of the lawsuits challenging the law and opposed to the state accepting federal money to build an exchange.

Party officials on Friday evening decided that four of the five resolutions were no longer necessary. However, they kept Resolution “C,” the one urging lawmakers to block any move to blend the $2.8 billion Medicaid program and an exchange, on the agenda for consideration at Saturday’s meeting.

Audio clip

Steve Shute at the GOP Central Committee meeting

Listen to Audio Clip

No one spoke against the resolution, though Dee McKee, a delegate from Manhattan, questioned dropping the wording that opposed even studying how the state’s Medicaid programs might fit into an exchange.

An unidentified man in the back of the back of the room responded, “It’s been studied enough.” Seconds later, the vote was taken.

After the vote, not everyone appeared to be on the same page as to what it meant. John Pyle, a delegate and chairman of the Republican Party in Ellis County, didn’t qualify the Medicaid-specific language the way that Shute did.

“What this resolution means is that we don’t want anything to do with Obamacare and we we’re telling our state officials that we don’t want Medicaid to have anything to do with it either,” Pyle said.

Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, wasn’t a delegate but was in the room for much of the discussion. “What I think we heard today is that a national health reform law infringes on states’ rights and on individual freedoms. To most Kansans that’s antithetical, to say the least,” he said. “Plus, I think it’s pretty clear that this is an issue that people are pretty passionate about.”

Despite sentiment against the reform law among GOP conservatives, Kansas Insurance Department officials have said they will continue to plan the exchange using what remains of a $1 million federal grant awarded last year. Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, a moderate Republican, has said repeatedly that Kansas would be better off establishing its own exchange rather than stepping aside and allowing the federal government to operate one in the state.

Anna Lamberstson, executive director of the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, said she’s concerned that opposition to the ACA may compromise the state’s ability to determine how to implement the law in a way that best serves Kansans.

“It’s our position that the ACA is still the law, and it’s very important for us to comply with the law as it is currently written,” Lambertson said. “If we continue to buck the law, it’s very likely we’re putting ourselves in a dangerous position of being poorly prepared for whatever does happen in the future.”