A day after outlining a health reform plan, Republican gubernatorial challenger Jim Barnett faced questions Wednesday from the governor’s office about whether the proposal would create a new bureaucracy without helping Kansans who can’t afford insurance.
“I’m very skeptical about how this could be done without creating more bureaucracy and more financial challenges for the state,” said Nicole Corcoran, spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. “It just does not make sense.”
Barnett’s plan would create a “Kansas Health Connector” and require most companies to sell health policies through it. Barnett says creating a single access point for consumers will increase competition and bring down prices.
Barnett, an Emporia physician and state senator, also estimates that his plan will help half of the state’s 300,000 uninsured residents find insurance, without requiring an increase in state spending.
“It’s to make those health insurance products available to Kansans in the easy, sort of one-stop shopping place,” Barnett said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters. “I think it will bring good competition into the market.”
Sebelius repeatedly has said improving Kansans’ access to health care is a top priority, but her proposal in 2004 to increase tobacco taxes $50 million annually to fund health care reforms received little support in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
Corcoran called Barnett’s alternative “adding on more bureaucracy rather than just solving the problem.”
“That’s something that this governor has tried to get away from,” Corcoran said.
Barnett described the Connector as a “quasi-state” entity.
“Insurance companies make their products available through the Connector; businesses and individuals make their payments sort of through the Connector, get connected with the insurance companies they choose,” Barnett said. “But we’re not trying to develop a Kansas policy. The state of Kansas won’t set benefits. They won’t set copays. They won’t set deductibles.”
Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist, said polling suggests that Sebelius enjoys solid support among Kansans aged 50 or older, a group particularly concerned about health care issues. Barnett, he said, needed to outline a health care proposal.
“My guess is that there are a fair number of Kansans out there who don’t even know he’s a doctor,” Beatty said. “The key for him is getting the message out.”
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