Kansas Insurance Commissioner Urges Health Care Law Plans

September 7, 2012

The state of Kansas needs to decide soon what services it will provide in a health insurance exchange required by the federal health care law, even if the future of the exchanges hinges on the outcome of the presidential election, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said.

During a meeting with health care officials, Praeger said she hoped to make recommendations on which “essential health benefits” should be included in Kansas’ insurance exchange to Gov. Sam Brownback after public comments end next week.

Praeger said the state is approaching a “soft deadline” of Sept. 30 to establish a benchmark insurance plan that includes which services must be covered by all other plans on the exchange, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

“It is critically important that we get some clarity on this,” Praeger said.

Brownback has been a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act and said he wants to wait until after the Nov. 6 election before making any decisions. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the act if he is elected. Last year, Brownback sent back a $31.5 million federal grant to set up a health insurance exchange.

But Praeger said if Kansas doesn’t pick its own plan and the health care reform law is not repealed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will make the choice for the state, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

Jill Van Den Bas, a consultant for the actuarial firm Milliman, said her company analyzed several plans offered to state and federal employees, as well as private-sector group plans offered by Blue Cross and United Healthcare. The analysis found the plans offered coverage on 95 percent of the same things, which means what the state chooses as its essential services might make little difference, but choosing one of the private-sector plans might be less disruptive to the existing market, she said.

Several speakers urged the state to include coverage for children’s dental care and vision, mental health services, and services for the disabled.

But Eric Stafford, a lobbyist with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said he was concerned too many mandates could increase the cost of insurance and prompt business owners to stop offering coverage to their employees.

“We want good coverage, but we want these products to be affordable,” Praeger said. “So, it’s balancing the coverage versus the cost.”