Kansas’ Democratic governor vetoes bill labeled ‘misleading, harmful’ by opponents

Advocates argue 36-month health plans fit niche consumer demand

By: - April 11, 2022 5:36 pm
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat seeking re-election in November, vetoed for the second time a bill extending to 36 months "short-term" health plans criticized for not covering pre-existing conditions. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat seeking re-election in November, vetoed for the second time a bill extending to 36 months “short-term” health plans criticized for not covering pre-existing conditions. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed legislation Monday extending the duration of short-term health plans that don’t guarantee consumers coverage for pre-existing conditions and don’t comply with standards of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The Kansas Legislature passed a bill that would make it legal to sign up for this form of “short-term” health plan for 36 months, which would match federal regulations adopted during the term of President Donald Trump. Under current Kansas law, individuals can extend a one-year contract for 12 months.

The Democratic governor rejected a comparable bill in 2021, and both actions were endorsed by the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

This session’s Senate Bill 199 and last year’s Senate Bill 29 were labeled by skeptics as “junk insurance” because the plans didn’t cap out-of-pocket expenses and didn’t necessarily cover prescription medication, maternity care and mental health  services.

“After reviewing this bill, I still have concerns about how it will hurt Kansas families. The plans provided under this bill do not cover pre-existing conditions and do not provide consumer protections. As a result, one medical emergency could cause a Kansas family to spiral into bankruptcy,” Kelly said.

She said the solution to the state’s shortage of affordable health care was passage of Medicaid expansion under the ACA. Broadening of eligibility for Medicaid has been adopted by 38 states, but Republican lawmakers for years have blocked attempts to include Kansas in that group.

Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Eudora Republican and an independent health insurance agent, introduced the short-term coverage bill. She argued it was a reasonable alternative to traditional insurance policies and coverage available in the ACA marketplace. She said these alternative health plans also were appropriate for people who sought limited coverage rather than no coverage at all.

She said short term plans were 60% less expensive because they didn’t offer comprehensive coverage. Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma adopted laws permitting companies to offer clients these plans for up to 36 months, she said.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma  Society said a January survey showed 79% indicated short-term plans should have to follow the same rules as traditional insurance.

“These plans were harmful a year ago, and they’re harmful today. Absolutely nothing has changed there,” said Dana Bacon, government affairs director with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “Short-term plans continue to rely on misleading marketing and put customers at risk.”

Nancy Holland, Kansas state advocacy vice-chair with the American Heart Association, said short-term health plans were designed to fill gaps in coverage. Expanding length of the policies for 36 months puts families at too much risk of emergencies such as health attack or stroke and the high out-of-pocket costs, she said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.