Gossage would limit state’s role with ACA

By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service
July 28, 2014

OVERLAND PARK — Beverly Gossage stands out as the only woman among the five Republican candidates for Kansas insurance commissioner.

But she’s in lockstep with her male counterparts when it comes to the highest-profile issue in the race: the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare — the health reform measure that was the signature accomplishment of the Obama administration’s first term — and how she sees it affecting health insurance.

“People have fewer policies to choose from; people are losing their policies,” Gossage says. “There’s less competition. Premiums are increasing. I see this every day with my clients.”

If she’s elected insurance commissioner, Gossage, who lives in rural Johnson County, says she will encourage insured and uninsured Kansans to meet with an independent agent before they explore their options in the federal government’s online health insurance marketplace, also known as the health insurance exchange.

“Everything that’s available on the exchange is available in the private sector, and the private sector has more options,” she says. “We have 20,000 independent insurance agents in the state of Kansas who can help people find the policy that’s best for them.”

Gossage, who has been a licensed insurance agent since 2002, calls the current practice of using trained volunteer “navigators” to help people determine which marketplace plan might best meet their needs “a terrible idea” that’s not worth continuing.

“I would not promote navigators, and I would not be a party to Kansas’ bringing down $900,000 in federal dollars for navigators,” she says, referring to federal navigator grants awarded to three Kansas organizations last year.

“We have 20,000 licensed insurance agents who are ready and willing to do this work without costing taxpayers a dime,” Gossage says. “They know these policies inside and out; they know all the options.”

Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project in Kansas, disputes Gossage’s description of the navigators.

“The truth is that not very many navigators are paid, they’re mostly volunteers,” he says. “There are a few at some of the FQHCs (Federally Qualified Health Centers, also known as safety-net clinics for the uninsured) who are paid through a federal funding stream that is available, but these folks were some of our busiest navigators. I find it hard to believe that many of them were sitting around with nothing to do.”

Health care advocates, Weisgrau says, do not object to insurance agents helping people find health insurance through the federal marketplace.

“We think there are enough people to go around; there are roles for both agents and navigators,” he says. “To say one is better than the other is a bit of a ‘straw man’ argument and is irrelevant.”

If elected, Gossage says she would limit the insurance department’s involvement with the Affordable Care Act to one thing: posting a link to the www.healthcare.gov marketplace on the department’s website. She recently signed the Independent Women’s Voice Obamacare Repeal Pledge.

In her work as an insurance agent, Gossage, 64, specializes in helping individuals, families and businesses set up health savings accounts.

She and her husband, Robert, live in the country between Eudora and De Soto and have four grown children. “He is my childhood sweetheart,” Gossage says. “We’ve known each other since sixth grade.”

Gossage has a bachelor’s degree in education from Central Missouri State University. She taught elementary school for eight years before becoming a regional administrator for Sylvan Learning, a national company that tutors students outside regular classroom settings.

Gossage described herself as a free-market conservative.

“I like for there to be a lot of competition and for there to be a lot of products to choose from,” she says. “And I’m opposed to mandates. If a husband and wife can’t have children and don’t need or want maternity coverage, I don’t think they should have to have it. But with Obamacare, they have to have it. All I can do is say, ‘I’m sorry you have to have it, you have to pay for it.’”

Her opposition to government mandates, she says, extends to a law passed earlier this year that requires individual health insurance policies sold in Kansas to begin covering autism treatments for children. Many Republicans supported the measure.

“That’s a mandate,” Gossage says. “I’d like for the carrier to decide what they’re going to cover.”

Gossage, who home-schooled her dyslexic son, says she sympathized with the families of autistic children. But she says mandates force insurers to raise premiums.

On other topics, Gossage says:

• She “doesn’t have a problem with” insurance plans covering birth control, but she’s strongly opposed to employers being required to cover drugs that terminate pregnancies after conception.

• She favors Kansas joining a multistate compact designed to break member states’ ties with Obamacare while letting them take over the Medicare and Medicaid programs within their borders. “I like the idea of block-granting the (federal) funds and not having the federal government telling us in Kansas how we need to do things better when we know how to take care of Kansans.”

• She supports Gov. Sam Brownback’s resistance to expanding the state’s Medicaid program, noting that Medicaid beneficiaries are the “biggest abusers” of emergency-room care.

Gossage says that if she’s elected, she would begin the process of spurring a much-needed public discussion on the merits of workers depending on employers for their families’ health insurance.

A better approach, she says, would be to have businesses give their employers stipends that they could use to buy the coverage that best meets their needs and would be portable, from job to job.

The current employer-based system, Gossage says, wreaks havoc when companies go out of business or lay off workers, especially those who have developed chronic conditions that make finding replacement coverage difficult.