House Moves Forward on Bipartisan Health Care Bill
The Kansas House of Representatives approved the Health Reform Act of 2008 last week (Sub for Senate Bill 81), an issue that I have been working to address via a small business perspective. The bill implements many of the Kansas Health Policy Authority’s 21 recommendations made last November. Following are highlights from the bill.
Group health insurance providers will now be required to provide the option of establishing premium only cafeteria plans to businesses, who may then offer a premium only cafeteria plan to their employees. Premium only plans allow employees to pay for their share of the company-sponsored health insurance premiums with before-tax money. This reduces the cost of the employee share of premium by significant amounts, while also saving the employer FICA and Medicare taxes on these premium dollars.
To make health insurance more affordable for working Kansans, the bill expands the Kansas Healthy Choices program. Kansas Healthy Choices provides health insurance assistance to low-income families, integrating the poorest, childless adults into the health care system by providing them with subsidized access to private health care insurance. Premium assistance funds will increase from 37 to 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and will include access to a state procured plan, health opportunity accounts and employer-provided insurance.
The bill also seeks to promote the concept of a “medical home” for health care consumers by defining the term in statute. This concept, once fully implemented, will provide consumers with increased access to health services and more information about self-management of health conditions. It will also facilitate information sharing among medical providers and insurance companies as well as reduce the number of redundant tests and procedures that is so pervasive within our current system.
The bill funds access to health outreach to find eligible children who need to be enrolled in HealthWave and Medicaid. In addition, the bill provides funding for dental care for pregnant women falling between the 150 percent and 200 percent of federal poverty level and likewise incorporates tobacco cessation services into this category. The bill also increases KDHE funding for cancer screening, colon, prostate, cervical and breast by $4 million, and state employee COBRA coverage benefits would be extended from 6 to 18 months.
This particular piece of legislation certainly does not solve all of Kansas’ health care problems. These changes do, however, get healthcare reform moving in the right direction. I have introduced proposals in both current and previous sessions that have specifically tried to address the issue of cost containment by providing small groups (small businesses, school districts) the ability to leverage the state’s purchasing power through participation in large risk pools. While the current bill does not address this particular topic, it does take several important first steps, and I am hopeful that future Kansas Health Policy Authority recommendations will be more aggressive in pursuing that particular policy option in the future.
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