By Chad Frey

Newton Kansan

TOPEKA — A proposal to allow Kansas to exempt itself from the national health care overhaul — House Bill 2553 — could be debated by the Kansas Legislature in March, following approval of the move by The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

It is a bill which Steve Kelly, CEO of Newton Medical Center and the chairman of the Kansas Hospital Association Board, has been watching closely.

"The key premise that no one disagrees with is there are challenges are coming with healthcare," Kelly said. "The disagreement is how we do (deal with those). Obamacare was an attempt to do this."

However the state legislature is, apparently, making a move to block federal healthcare reform in the state.

It is a move that Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said would place federal funding for all health care services and health plans under the control of the state legislature and governor.

"This legislation would include but is not limited to Medicare, Medicaid, the children’s health insurance program (HealthWave), rural hospitals, Hospice and federally qualified health centers (FQHC)," Commissioner Praeger said. "The funding would be received in a block grant to the state, and the state legislature would decide how to spend those health care dollars."

Commissioner Praeger said that, under the legislation, if the state budget is under-funded in the future, money that should be used to support the Medicare program in Kansas could be swept from that program to support other state responsibilities.

"It is already happening with dollars meant for highway programs and funds in other state agencies being taken and used to offset spending for other legislative priorities," Commissioner Praeger said, "caused in part by the reduction in state income taxes.

"Supporters of the bill may tell you it doesn’t affect Medicare, but that is just not true. It could jeopardize the coverage and benefits that seniors have come to count on. It would be a serious mistake to turn the Medicare program over to state control. Kansans have paid into this program through payroll taxes and expect to receive the benefits they have been promised."

Kelly said the state needs to find something that works for Kansas — and to not expect major changes until after the next election.

"It is possible that come next year we might find a Kansas solution and implement part of it. It could engage the private sector in that solution," Kelly said. "I see the pendulum slowly swinging to 'lets find a solution, rather than just say no to it.' I am guardedly optimistic."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report