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Panelist: Kansas Compact Originator Intent On Medicare Privatization

Andy Marso
KHI News

Legislators who passed a health care compact in Kansas said changes to Medicare were not the impetus, but a “Medicare coach” told a Johnson County crowd Tuesday night that the originator of the multi-state compact favors Medicare privatization.

Larry Weigel of Manhattan, who provides Medicare advice to seniors, told about 100 people gathered at a League of Women Voters event that the compact was the brainchild of Leo Linbeck III, a co-founder of the Health Care Compact Alliance who comes from a wealthy family with a history of advocating for right-wing Libertarian causes.

“Linbeck wants to privatize Medicare,” Weigel said. “This is the hidden agenda. This is the part that’s not getting out to the public.”

Weigel pointed to a 2011 Mother Jones interview from shortly after the alliance formed, in which Linbeck said one of the goals of the compact was to allow each state to run Medicare as it wishes.

He also noted the involvement of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization that connects legislators with private sector representatives, which adopted the compact in 2011 as model legislation to be introduced by its members in their states.

Weigel said legislators who made Kansas the ninth state to sign the compact probably did so — as they stated — as a repudiation of the federal health care reforms spearheaded by President Barack Obama, but they overlooked the potential Medicare implications when they did so.

“I think it’s primarily to poke more holes in the Affordable Care Act,” Weigel said. “But the big mistake was when Medicare was dragged into it.”

During Tuesday evening's event at Asbury United Methodist Church, Weigel sat on a panel with Linda Sheppard, formerly special counsel and director of health care policy and analysis for the Kansas Insurance Department who now works for the Kansas Health Institute. The Kansas Health Institute is a nonpartisan policy and research organization that also houses the editorially independent KHI News Service.

League of Women Voters-Johnson County organizers said legislators who supported the compact were invited to sit on the panel but did not respond.

The event was moderated by Kansas City Star columnist Dave Helling, who steered the discussion toward whether the compact was even constitutional.

The agreement would allow member states to opt out of federal health care regulations while continuing to receive a promised allocation of federal health care funds each year as a block grant.

Sheppard said those questions could be litigated if the bill gets action in Congress, which some have said does not appear imminent.

“If the compact ends up going to Congress and if the Congress decides to consent to the compact, I think there would be all kinds of legal challenges that would come up at that point,” Sheppard said.

Tuesday's discussion came on the heels of a controversy between the Johnson County Commission on Aging and state legislators representing Johnson County who voted for the compact.

The commission, a group of volunteer seniors appointed by the Johnson County commissioners to advise on issues pertinent to the aging population, wrote an article critical of the compact in the latest issue of The Best Times, a magazine that goes out to everyone in the county 60 and older.

Legislators who supported the compact saw an advance draft of the article and took umbrage, calling it inaccurate and unfair.

County commissioners granted the legislators a page in The Best Times for rebuttal, but Weigel said the commission on aging's article was fair and raised important questions about the compact's possible effect on Medicare. He commended the commission, drawing applause from the crowd of mostly seniors.

“This is the first I know of in Kansas where somebody has taken a stand,” Weigel said. “This issue has been under the radar screen. Very important issue.”

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