Former Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer said two recent federal changes to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, will help drive down health care costs nationwide, but Kansas legislators will need to tweak some state laws in order to pass those potential savings onto Kansans.
“Kansas should take advantage of options provided by the federal administration,” Selzer says.
Health care premiums more than doubled under the Affordable Care Act, but recent rule changes have provided opportunities to create more flexibility and more health care options.
One ACA rule change extended the length of short-term health policies from 90 days to 364 days and allows individuals to renew short-term healthcare policies twice instead of once. The federal policy change will allow individuals to use a short-term health care plan for almost three years, but Kansas lawmakers will have to make a statutory change so Kansans can renew a short-time policy more than once.
“It will give huge flexibility to people who are in transition in their careers,” Selzer said. “Many people will take advantage of that.”
Federal changes to the ACA will also provide more opportunities for large associations to offer insurance plans to their members. For example, a new federal rule will allow an organization like the Kansas Bankers Association to offer health care plans to its members.
“That will provide coverage to some people who probably don’t have coverage now,” Selzer said. “To the extent that we give more people more options and organizations more capabilities to provide health insurance, we will drive down uninsured rates.”
Selzer, whose term in office as Kansas Insurance Commissioner expired on January 14, said state lawmakers can make changes to mirror federal health care rules. Individuals can also help drive down healthcare costs by talking to their federal representatives in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate, Selzer said.
Attempts to overturn the ACA, or Obamacare, failed in 2017, but there are other things Congress can do to increase health care affordability and access. For starters, Selzer says federal lawmakers should work on fixing the Medicaid portion of Obamacare.
“That’s a budget buster that is devastating the finances of our country and our states,” he said. “Congress needs to provide a way to contain the burdening costs of Medicaid expansion across the states. It’s a major issue in the U.S.”
The former insurance commissioner said Kansas often takes the lead on important national issues.
“We were the first to have a worker’s comp system. We were one of the early states to have an insurance department. We were the first state to have a securities office. We’re one of the leading states on the opioid issue,” he said.
Kansas ranks 6th from the bottom in the number of opioid deaths per 100,000 residents. Selzer credits a voluntary Kansas program, adopted in 2014, that allows pharmacists and hospitals to log Schedule I drug prescriptions and usage. If it appears that a person is pharmacist or doctor shopping, the provider can refuse to fill the prescription. Selzer stresses the program is voluntary.
“We can be out front on some issues in a way that doesn’t provide more regulations but that provides consumers with more choices. We always need to support giving people more access to insurance through our statutes,” he said.