Archive for Thursday, May 12, 2005

Health care issues loom large in Topeka

May 12, 2005

While most Kansans slept, the 2005 Kansas Legislature adjourned at approximately 2:55 a.m. on May 1. During the 82-day session, 987 bills were introduced, and 176 were passed by the Legislature. At last count Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had vetoed four bills, and several more await her decision.

The Legislature considered a host of issues including: school finance, taxes, liquor guidelines, nursing home regulation, criminal laws and tort reform. You can find a comprehensive list of all the legislation passed at http://skyways.lib.ks.us/ ksleg/KLRD/Summaries.htm While these issues are important, one issue rose above the others during the veto session. This important issue was discussed throughout the session and received legislative action during the veto session. The issue is health care.

Access to, and the cost of, health care is one of the most important issues facing all Kansans. There are no simple solutions to resolve this huge challenge. Health care expenses are the fastest growing segment of the state budget and the fastest growing personal expense for most individuals.

A number of bills were passed in an attempt to curb the runaway cost of health care. A new Kansas Health Care Policy Authority was formed to control and streamline the state's health care spending. This new nine-member authority will conduct a comprehensive review of the total health care system and make recommendations to the governor and the Legislature on how to control costs and maintain quality health care in Kansas. The state Medicaid system will transition from Social Rehabilitation Services (SRS) to the new authority.

Two other bills that have become law in an effort to control costs are SB 84, which bolsters a federal prescription drug benefit plan for the poor. Additionally, SB 257 encourages Kansans to use health care savings accounts and doubles the tax credits for small businesses that begin providing employee health benefits.

No single piece of legislation or package of legislation will cure our health care system. It will take a sustained commitment from the public and private sectors and every individual to get ahead of this huge challenge. Twenty-five years ago approximately 6 percent of the nation's GDP (gross domestic product) was dedicated to health care expenses. Today approximately 14 percent of GDP goes to health care expenses. Future projections have health care expenses climbing to 17 percent of GDP. This is an unsustainable trend. Action must be taken. I am convinced that the federal government will not lead the effort to solve this problem. Kansas, along with several other states, will act as experimental laboratories testing ways to resolve this most difficult challenge. We will experiment and continue to work with the process until we find solutions that slow the growth of health care costs.

In addition, each of us will need to take responsibility for our personal wellness to help tame the escalating costs of health care. Preventive medical measures such as annual physical examinations and regular health check-ups are critical to early detection. Early diagnosis and treatment of most health problems is less costly than late-stage treatments. Eating properly, taking vitamins and a commitment to an exercise or activity program are all important features for a healthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyles generally mean lower health care costs for the individual and our community.

According to the Kansas Health Institute, approximately 61 percent of the total cost of health care in the United States is funded by the federal, state and local governments. Approximately four out of every 10 U.S. citizens have some type of government-provided health insurance coverage. These are stunning numbers.

There are many challenges facing our community, our state and our country. Gaining control of the climbing cost of health care is near the top of the list of those challenges. Health care impacts each of us, and each of us has a role to play in solving the problem. This will take a long-term commitment from policy makers at every level (federal, state and local), the private sector and individual citizens. The Kansas Legislature has started the long journey with the passage of reform legislation. This is not the first legislation nor will it be the last. I hope that this legislation begins to move us in a direction that will help us to manage health care costs in the long term.

Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, represents the 42nd Kansas House District, which includes Lansing west of Main Street.

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