Wichita resident Ashlea Konecny stood tall Wednesday for a son born with a heart condition to denounce legislation enabling Kansas Farm Bureau to offer healthy people lower-cost health policies without coverage of pre-existing conditions.
She said Caden, 12, has endured three open-heart surgeries and expects to have more. His family possesses insurance to bring about that life-saving treatment. However, Konecny said, Farm Bureau seeks permission from the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly to market health policies discriminating against people with known medical maladies. She considered the proposal through the prism of her son's life.
"What is not guaranteed is that he would receive adequate and affordable health care in the state of Kansas because of his pre-existing condition, and that is simply unacceptable," Konecny said.
On the other side of the fence, Macksville farmer Justin Vosburgh, 55, made an equally emotional appeal to Kansas House members weighing Senate Bill 32. He urged representatives to follow the Senate's lead and try to bring a slice of sanity to his extended family's battle against rising health insurance costs. He estimated premiums for his family could reach $50,000 next year, a scenario that might prompt an attempt to self-insure the family.
"We need competition and an alternative for this farm and my family," Vosburgh said.
Under the bill passed 28-11 by the Senate, the state's Farm Bureau nonprofit organization would be eligible to offer members a health plan not legally considered insurance. It would be exempt from regulatory oversight of the Kansas Department of Insurance.
Terry Holdren, CEO at Kansas Farm Bureau, said an estimated 42,000 Kansans would enroll in the plan, which has yet to be publicly revealed. He said monthly premiums for Farm Bureau members could be 30 percent below market rates in Kansas.
He said a third-party administrator would be hired to operate the system, with Farm Bureau claiming about 0.5 percent profit to support management.
"That's real affordability for Kansans," Holdren said. "Farm and ranch families and small business owners face uncertain economic times, making their ability to purchase health coverage for their families difficult."
The Farm Bureau would be allowed to reject applicants with pre-existing conditions, which caught the attention of Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The powerful insurance giant opposes the legislation because it would give Farm Bureau an exclusive opportunity to cherry-pick healthy customers and leave risky or sick people to other insurance platforms.
"Insurance can be complicated. This isn't," said Brad Smoot, who represents BCBS. "What is being proposed here is dangerous for a lot of Kansans."
Rep. Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican who chairs the House Insurance Committee, said the members were divided on the Farm Bureau bill. He said lawmakers recognize the health care affordability crisis, but differences exist on how to craft a bill best addressing the problem.
In an interview, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said she was undecided about the bill because it could be dramatically altered in the legislative process.
"I will wait to decide what to do with that. I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of modifications to it in the process," Kelly said.