Kelly vetoes ‘junk’ health insurance bill, calls for Medicaid expansion

Legislature’s opportunity to override governor is narrow

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill extending duration of short-term health insurance policies that she labeled
Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill extending duration of short-term health insurance policies that she labeled "junk," and called on the Legislature to expand access to Medicaid. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill Wednesday designed to extend duration of “junk” health insurance plans that don’t cover pre-existing conditions and renewed her commitment to expanding Medicaid to provide coverage to more lower-income Kansans.

The Senate easily approved Senate Bill 29, but the House narrowly adopted the legislation extending opportunities for people to rely on stop-gap insurance policies that often don’t cover pre-existing conditions. In 2017, President Donald Trump maneuvered to let companies selling six-month or 12-month health insurance policies in Kansas to expand reach of those policies for up to three years.

Kelly, a Democrat seeking re-election, said the vetoed bill affirmed the necessity of expanding eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

She said acceptance of Medicaid expansion — a policy blocked by the Republican-led House and Senate — would deliver preventative health care to as many as 165,000 Kansans, bring thousands of jobs to the state, protect financially vulnerable rural hospitals and inject millions in federal funding into the state’s economy.

“Junk insurance, which doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions or provide consumer protections, is just that: junk,” the governor said. “Signing this bill would cause more Kansas families to go bankrupt over medical bills. If the Legislature wants to get serious about improving access to health care, they should join 38 other states and the District of Columbia and pass Medicaid expansion.”

Under existing Kansas law, companies can offer this category of health insurance policy with a 12-month duration. The bill would have altered the definition of “short term, limited duration” to be a policy of less than one year duration and offering extensions for a maximum of 36 months.

Eudora Republican Sen. Beverly Gossage, owner of a health savings account consulting company and an unsuccessful candidate for Kansas insurance commissioner, told a Senate committee in March health plans of limited duration were an affordable option for people between jobs or not interested in comprehensive coverage. These policies are exempt from the definition of individual health insurance coverage under the ACA.

She said short-term plans wouldn’t be beneficial to all consumers, but should be available to people who otherwise might not purchase private insurance.

“The short-term plans are at least 60% to 70% lower in premium than the ACA plans primarily because they do not cover pre-existing conditions or other benefits that some purchasers do not want or would rather pay cash for, such as normal maternity, prescriptions, chiropractic services or mental health,” Gossage said. “Purchasers appreciate that they only pay for what they want insurance to cover.”

The insurance reform touted by Gossage was opposed by American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, with a representative of the organization arguing these health plans could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charge enrollees higher premiums because of their pre-existing conditions. This type of policy, the organization said, would deny people comprehensive coverage needed if an individual was diagnosed with a serious unplanned disease such as cancer.

“Access to quality health coverage directly affects people’s ability to prevent, detect and survive cancer,” said Christina Cowart, Kansas Grassroots Manager American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “The sad reality is that too much cancer death and suffering is attributable to gaps in our health care system.”

She said proponents of the short-term insurance plans tout the lower premiums relative to ACA plans, but limited-duration policies “actually expose enrollees with serious illnesses to much higher out-of-pocket costs.”

Others opposed to the legislation vetoed by the governor included the American Heart Association, Cigna Legal, Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Lung Association, Arthritis Foundation, Be The Match/National Marrow Donor Program, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, National Alliance on Mental Illness Kansas, and the Susan G. Komen Center for Public Policy.

The 2021 Legislature is scheduled to convene May 26 for the ceremonial conclusion of the annual session, but have the option of attempting to pass bills or overrides of a governor’s veto.

The House and Senate passed the bill on May 7, but only the Senate approved the legislation with a veto-proof, two-thirds majority. The Senate vote was 29-11, while the House voted 68-51 for the bill.