KHI News Service

Brownback says no again to health insurance exchange

By KHI NEWS SERVICE | November 08, 2012

Gov. Sam Brownback today squelched Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger’s efforts to partner with the federal government on a health insurance exchange.

The federal health reform law calls for each state to have an exchange in place by January 2014 as a centralized online shopping place for government-subsidized and affordable health insurance plans.

Brownback has been a consistent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, first as a U.S. senator and since election as governor in 2010.

“Kansans feel Obamacare is an overreach by Washington and have rejected the state’s participation in this federal program," Brownback said in a prepared statement. "My administration will not partner with the federal government to create a state-federal partnership insurance exchange because we will not benefit from it and implementing it could costs Kansas taxpayers millions of dollars."

The governor said any other official who wanted an exchange could take their chances with the Kansas Legislature.

“Any other elected official who supports implementation of a federal-state partnership exchange should pursue legislation in the 2013 legislative session where lawmakers can debate and vote on the proposal,” he said.

Praeger earlier this week said the grant application to help develop a state-federal partnership on a Kansas exchange did not need explicit approval by the governor but could not go forward without his tacit support for it.

Brownback in August 2011 turned back a $31.5 million federal grant to help develop a state-run exchange that federal officials hoped would serve as a model for other states.

He rejected the grant after giving Praeger assurances in December 2011 that he would allow her to continue her work with insurance companies and consumer groups to develop a Kansas-operated exchange.

Though Brownback has been consistent in his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, in 2011 he defended the idea of a state-based health insurance exchange at a meeting of conservative Republicans in Johnson County. His remarks were captured in a video recording.

Praeger is a moderate Republican who supports the Affordable Care Act and was instrumental in securing the so-called "innovator" grant the governor later spurned after GOP party activists made an issue of it.

The day after President Obama was re-elected, Praeger reiterated her desire to pursue a partnership exchange, saying that it was “time to stop resisting” implementation of the reform law.

But she said she needed to know quickly whether Brownback would oppose her efforts before she alerted federal officials.

Praeger responded to Brownback’s decision today with a short statement of her own.

“Our job at the insurance department was to be prepared with exchange information, and we were,” she said. “The governor has made his decision.”

Praeger has said that partnering with the federal government on an exchange would be better for Kansas companies and consumers because it would allow the state to retain its authority to approve insurance plans sold through the online marketplace.

Insurance companies and other health-related groups have testified to the Legislature that if there were to be an exchange they would prefer it to be run by Kansas instead of federal officials.

Under the reform law, the federal government will operate the exchanges in states that choose against running their own.

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