Kansas’ Brownback Accepts, Then Returns Health Law Grant

In an attempt to free Kansas “from the strings attached” to federal dollars, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is returning $31 million he previously accepted from an Early Innovator Grant made available to the states under the new federal health care law. GOP leaders criticized Brownback’s original decision to accept the money as a validation of the Affordable Care Act, whose constitutionality Kansas is currently challenging in court.

In a statement released today, Brownback defended returning the money by saying the state needed to practice belt-tightening measures:

“Every state should be preparing for fewer federal resources, not more. To deal with that reality Kansas needs to maintain maximum flexibility. That requires freeing Kansas from the strings attached to the Early Innovator Grant.”

Ironically, Brownback will entangle Kansas in greater federal control by refusing the grant, which supports states as they develop the logistics needed to create their own health insurance exchanges. As Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has made clear, if states refuse to set up their own exchanges, HHS will do it for them, thereby ceding the governor’s “authority to the federal government.”

But the announcement also represents a 180-degree reversal for Brownback, who defended the state’s acceptance of the ACA dollars just last month against Tea Party opposition.

“What I thought we could do is use the innovator grant not to do Obamacare — I am not supportive of us doing Obamacare — but to use that to do an exchange that provides a market mechanism,” Brownback said. “It’s not required that we use it to comply with Obamacare.”

Apparently even that possibility is out of the question now as Kansas will return millions of dollars that could have been spent on improving its health care system for its residents, over a tenth of whom were without health insurance in 2009.

Sarah Bufkin