The Senate's procedural maneuver to bundle a handful of insurance bills Wednesday could be a lifeline to stalled legislation in the House granting the Kansas Farm Bureau authority to market basic health policies.
Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican, led the Senate insurance committee through a convoluted meeting that ended with placement of Farm Bureau-inspired Senate Bill 32 into a House measure.
If the Senate were to pass the package, the House could skip more committee hearings and simply concur on the House floor. That would send the bill to Gov. Laura Kelly, who has sought to expand Medicaid eligibility to aid uninsured Kansans rather than champion the Farm Bureau option.
"It takes a majority in both chambers to make that happen," Olson said. "This is just another opportunity to try to get this bill to where both sides can vote on it."
Under Senate Bill 32, Farm Bureau could begin to legally market health benefit plans. These wouldn't technically be called medical insurance because the plans would operate outside regulatory authority of the state's insurance commissioner and wouldn't comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Farm Bureau estimated it could attract 40,000 Kansans to the organization's affordable, renewable plans with rates one-third lower than premiums on the open market.
In Iowa, the state's Farm Bureau organization accepted applications from members of the organization who lived in Iowa and weren't eligible for Medicaid, Medicare or an employer group health plan.
The Kansas Senate voted 28-11 to forward the Farm Bureau bill to the Kansas House, but the bill was recently tabled in the House Insurance Committee.
Rep. Jene Vickrey, the Louisburg Republican who chairs that House committee, said he could have eventually pushed Farm Bureau's legislation through his committee. But he called off that showdown Wednesday following the Senate's procedural move to bundle Senate Bill 32 with other insurance measures.
"This health benefit is something good," Vickrey said. "The key is we have about 8 percent of Kansans who are uninsured."
Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-Kansas City, said he remained opposed to the Farm Bureau initiative because lower-cost premiums would be possible by denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
He said Farm Bureau would target young, healthy people and strive to avoid clients struggling with cancer, AIDS, dementia, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, congestive heart failure or another expensive ailment.
"I'm against it," Frownfelter said. "It is going to pick winners and losers. In five years, people will be back here complaining about the coverage or complaining about not being included."
Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said she opposed the combined bill because she objected to Senate Bill 32 and several other pieces of legislation in the package. The Senate committee voted to roll the Farm Bureau legislation into House Bill 2143.