Leaders of two Kansas business lobbying associations outlined for a Senate committee Thursday deep pessimism that members of their groups could escape economic damage from implementation of national health insurance reform.
The Kansas Chamber and the Kansas unit of the National Federation of Independent Business tag-teamed to outline for the Senate Health and Welfare Committee the struggle business owners would have complying with federal law requiring nearly all Americans to secure health insurance.
Eric Stafford, senior director of government affairs for the Kansas Chamber, said a survey of 300 chief executive officers from across the state indicated 40 percent would terminate company- sponsored group health plans and force employees to secure their own policies after the federal law took effect at the start of 2014.
"That's not to say employers won't provide financial assistance to their employees," he said. "To what extent this shift will affect the market will only be known down the road."
He said insurance businesses would be hit with taxes that would be passed directly to consumers through higher premiums.
NFIB state director Dan Murray said the requirement individuals obtain either private or government health insurance created financial and regulatory burdens for small businesses. He said the federal law won't do anything to help businesses keep pace with rising health costs during the remainder of Democratic President Barack Obama's term.
"Affordability of health care really hits home for small businesses," Murray said.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, chairwoman of the Senate committee, said she hadn't scheduled a hearing to hear from supporters of the insurance reform law signed by Obama and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. She said the topic would be frequently addressed by the committee during the current legislative session.
She said the burden of the federal law on businesses would stall economic expansion and undercut job growth.
"Without jobs," Pilcher-Cook said, "there is less health care available in Kansas."
Duane Goossen, vice president for fiscal and health policy at the Kansas Health Institute in Topeka, said in an interview after the Senate hearing that the state had approximately 350,000 people without health insurance.
Under the federal law, Goossen said, most will be eligible for coverage through Medicaid if they have low incomes or through an insurance exchange network with rates subsidized by the federal government.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said Gov. Sam Brownback has yet to announce whether he would commit Kansas to expansion of Medicaid to include 75,000 uninsured people and 47,000 people who directly purchase health insurance or have it through an employer.
Medicaid coverage for these Kansas adults would be entirely paid by the federal government for three years.
"As a state," she said, "we have a big decision. If we don't expand Medicaid eligibility, we leave 122,000 out."
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, introduced a House bill Thursday requiring the state to expand Medicaid.
"We know for a fact that people with health insurance live longer, have healthier lives and are more productive citizens," he said.