Kansas governor vetoes bill on short-term health insurance

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday vetoed a bill favored by many Republican lawmakers that could have encouraged some people to stick longer with short-term health coverage that critics label “junk insurance.”

The bill’s backers said it simply would have given people who buy limited duration health insurance more protection against premium increases or coverage changes. Such plans, lasting up to a year, offer lower premiums than comprehensive plans but don’t cover pre-existing medical conditions and other items such as medications or maternity care.

The bill would have allowed a consumer to buy new plans for two additional years without having the insurer reconsider the terms. Backers strongly object to the term “junk insurance.”

Kelly advocates expanding the state’s Medicaid program for the needy to cover up to 165,000 additional Kansas residents and said lawmakers should do that “if they want to get serious about improving access to health care.” But many Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion, and Kelly has been unable to get a bill through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“Junk insurance – which doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions or provide consumer protections – is just that, ‘junk,'” Kelly said in her veto message.

Some critics of the bill were worried because in 2019, Kelly didn’t block a GOP measure to permit the Kansas Farm Bureau to offer health coverage that doesn’t comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, letting it become law without her signature. No Democrats voted for the final version of this year’s bill.

Critics said the bill did not represent an improvement over existing rules for short-term plans because companies still can decline later to sell new policies to the same consumers.

“Short-term health plans pose serious and often underestimated risks to people facing illness and discriminate against people who’ve experienced cancer,” said Dana Bacon, a lobbyist for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this month on a party-line 29-11 vote, giving supporters two votes more than the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. But the vote in the House was 68-51, leaving supporters well short of the 84 needed for a veto override.

Supporters of the bill said short-term plans are mainly for people who are between jobs, employed but trying to find insurance on their own, waiting for an employer’s coverage to start, or retiring before they’re eligible for federal Medicare coverage for people 65 or older.

They said companies are up front about what’s covered and what’s not and are regulated by the state.

“It is a very much a niche product,” said Senate Insurance Committee Chair Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican. “It really comes down to the consumer being able to choose what they can afford, and if this is what they can afford, it’s certainly better than being uninsured.”

State Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Eudora Republican and insurance agent who championed the bill, said Kelly misunderstood the measure and the issues involved. She said the measure improves an existing option for consumers.

She said about 1,800 Kansas residents have short-term plans, and they’re in middle-class families that don’t qualify for enough of a subsidy to make comprehensive plans in the federal government’s online insurance marketplace affordable.

Gossage argued that even people wary of short-term plans should support the measure.

“It’s just that you have some people that, the minute you say, ‘Wait a minute; I’ve heard about these plans; they don’t cover pre-existing conditions,’ their fingers go in their ears and they start to say, ”La, la, la, la, la,” she said. “They don’t hear anything else you say.”

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