Giving Kansans a voice in the insurance industry is the goal of state Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka.
Schmidt, a pharmacist by trade, is running for state insurance commissioner, an office currently held by Ken Selzer, who is running for governor.
She will face former state Sen. Clark Schultz, Lindsborg, in the Aug. 7 primary.
Born and raised in Wichita, she and her husband, Mike, live in Topeka, where he is an orthopedic surgeon.
First elected to the Senate in 2004, she has chaired the Public Health and Welfare Committee as well as subcommittees on health and social services in the Ways and Means Committee. She was chair of the Child Welfare System Task Force and the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations. She also served as vice chair of the 2017 Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services and KanCare Oversight.
Schmidt was in Hays on Thursday and answered questions from The Hays Daily News. Her answers are edited for clarity.
Why do you want to be insurance commissioner?
I think I have a strong background, certainly, in my pharmacy life. I get to deal with Medicare and Medicaid and commercial insurance every day. I think that's a good background to have for the regulatory position.
I think life has its challenges for everyone but I don't think insurance should be one of them. I think it's important to have a person that would advocate in that office. When I say advocate, I really mean for the individual or for the consumers, the Kansans, for the agents and for the companies, because they all have different areas where they need advocates.
The insurance commissioner also regulates the annuities industry in Kansas, and I think most people would be surprised to know that the majority of all annuities written in the united states actually touch Kansas.
We have a couple of large companies that deal with annuities, Advisors Excel in Topeka and Security Benefit (also in Topeka). Their economic footprint has expanded dramatically in Kansas. It's a huge economic footprint for us.
A couple years ago the legislature moved over the Office of Securities into the Insurance Commissioners's office, so that also is a piece of it.
I served on the state Board of Pharmacy for six years and served as president, and that's a regulatory body, like the insurance commissioner’s office, is, albeit smaller.
I would not have run against the current insurance commissioner, but he's decided to take another path. That left an open seat. This is a great time to run.
What's the biggest challenge in that office?
I think being an advocate for the people who need answers. I know I am known in the Senate as someone who gets answers. I think I don't always like the answers I get, but I do think the people deserve to have the answers, and I think Kansans deserve a voice in there and to be able to depend on the commissioner’s office to regulate fairly and to be able to have answers to their questions.
Life has its challenges, but I don’t think insurance should be one of them. If you have a fire of a flood or something that happens to you, you don't really care about how the office works, you just want the process to work.
Should Kansas expand Medicaid?
The insurance commissioner would not have a vote, certainly, in that. As chair of the public health and welfare committee, I did carry that bill on the floor and have supported Medicaid expansion. I think it's vitally important for our hospitals in Kansas. As you might imagine, I've visited with a few people in my travels. The local hospital is usually one of my stops. I've heard all kinds of horrible numbers of what hospitals are losing each and every year. That becomes a problem. We had a hospital close in Kansas already, and I think we have more that are walking a very fine line. As a health care provider, I know what happens, I can predict what happens when a hospital closes, and it’s never good for the community. If you have to drive or find transportation or get transportation for an illness or an accident, time matters.
Anything else you'd like to address?
I have helped protect Medicare for seniors in the Kansas Legislature. I think that's huge. I was also part of the process that made sure insurance companies cover autism services for our children. Those are a couple of differences between my opponent and I. Medicaid expansion is also a difference.
He actually put the amendment on a bill when he was serving in the legislature that said the legislature has to approve before the governor can expand Medicaid. We're one of the few states that has that requirement. I don't believe the previous governor would have expanded Medicaid on their own, but it has taken a tool out, so even if the governor wanted to expand Medicaid, the Legislature would have to approve. I just think that's taking in important tool out that they have.