Friday, February 26, 2010

Full Text of our remarks at the 02-24-10 press conference opposing the Kansas "Healthcare Freedom" Amendment

Good Afternoon everyone,

Thank you for joining us this afternoon as we detail our opposition to the proposed Kansas “Healthcare Freedom” Amendment. But let us begin with a brief introduction; my name is Kevin Myles and I am the President of the Kansas State Conference of the NAACP. The Kansas State Conference is the State Level unit of the Association and its membership is comprised of all of the local branches throughout the State.

We’re pleased to be joined today by Representative Melody McCray Miller, Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and several members of the State House of Representatives, Mr. Chester Daniels, President and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas, Ms. Janice Bradley of the Peace and Social Justice Center, as well as representatives from many of the NAACP Branches from around the State, and we are all united in our opposition to the Kansas “Healthcare Freedom” Amendment (KHCFA).

The KHCFA was introduced on Tuesday, February 2nd, by Representatives Landweir and Mast, and Senator Pilcher-Cook. We stand in opposition to this proposed amendment because despite its name, the KHCFA is not a bill that would guarantee “freedom” in Healthcare or provide choices and/or options for consumers. Rather, the KHCFA is in fact a measure specifically designed to block Federal Healthcare reform efforts from being implemented here in Kansas. Using deceptively simple language, it seeks to thwart the implementation of Federal Healthcare Reform efforts through prohibiting the mechanisms through which healthcare reforms would be funded.

There are three funding mechanisms available for expanding coverage to the uninsured and those with pre-existing conditions while driving down costs to make healthcare affordable and accessible: (1) Expanding the pool by having everyone purchase coverage. (2) Implementing some form of public plan or single payer plan such as Medicare for all. (3) Offset costs by raising taxes.

Section 1, part 1 is designed to prohibit any form of direct or indirect mandate which the drafters of this legislation fully understand is necessary if we are ever to cover those with pre-existing conditions. The only way we can provide quality and affordable coverage for all (including those with pre-existing conditions) is if we all share the risks. Section 1 prohibits the only funding mechanism that could provide such coverage outside of a single payer system. Section 1, part 2 prohibits the formation of a public or single payer system. And the legislators who introduced this bill know that Option #3 – Offsetting costs by raising taxes, is not a viable option.

So by outlawing the funding mechanisms available to provide quality and affordable healthcare for all, they effectively block the implementation of reforms and set up an unnecessary constitutional crisis which would then have to be resolved by the courts.

Simply put, the Kansas Healthcare Freedom Amendment does not guarantee freedoms. It denies the residents of the State of Kansas the freedom to engage in an honest and genuine debate about how best to provide healthcare for all, including those with pre-existing conditions.

However, what it does provide is a Constitutional guarantee for the status quo. What it does provide is a guarantee that health insurance companies will be able to CONTINUE discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. What it does provide is a constitutional plank stating that in Kansas, healthcare is a privilege and not a right. And what these legislators are claiming on behalf of all Kansans is that here in our State, we don't need Health care Reform; our system is totally fine, and we want to keep it just the way it is...

One of the many ironies in that position is that fact that the Kansas Healthcare Freedom amendment wasn’t even written by our legislators here in Kansas. In fact, the proposed amendment was downloaded from the internet. The site the bill actually came from was the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a conservative website, run by a Washington DC think-tank, with a whole section of “model legislation”. The bill on the site is named the “Freedom of Choice in healthcare Act”.

While we are opposed to the content and intent of the bill, we are equally opposed to the process by which this proposed amendment was foisted upon the residents of the State of Kansas. This bill was not written to address the needs of the residents of Kansas. We expect that our Senators and Representatives will carefully consider the needs of their constituents and draft legislation that will speak specifically to those needs. Our legislators should not scour the internet looking for boutique bills and partisan gimmicks to obstruct the legislative process as we work towards reforming a system that bankrupting the country. This proposed amendment is “Governance by Google” and we as citizens and residents of the State of Kansas deserve more than this.

Especially when there are roughly 300,000 Kansans who do not have health insurance. There are roughly 65,000 small businesses in Kansas that would qualify for tax credits under either the House or Senate bills that would allow them to provide coverage for their employees. There are roughly 44,000 Kansas Seniors who would be able to close the doughnut hole in Medicare Part D, under either the House or Senate bills. And there are roughly 4,100 Kansas Families who declare bankruptcy on an annual basis due to medical bills and medical debts.

In closing, we would like to state emphatically that in opposing the Kansas healthcare freedom amendment, we are not endorsing any specific healthcare reform bill. In fact, that is another of the ironies in this process… There is no actual Federal healthcare reform bill to oppose. There is a House version, and a Senate version, and a draft version released from the Administration, but all of these would have to be worked and caucused in order to come up with a final bill for our consideration. So we are not endorsing any specific bill, but we are standing in support of the legislative and deliberative process – We are opposed to onerous preconditions, legislative obstructionism, and partisan gimmicks -- We are standing in favor of an open and unfettered debate about how best to provide quality and affordable healthcare for all. And we call upon our Senators and Representatives to vote down the proposed “Healthcare Freedom” Amendment.

Thank you for your time, and we will now stand for any questions…

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