By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
RUSSELL -- The Affordable Care Act was a main topic at the Wednesday forum for Kansas insurance commissioner candidates at Meridy's Restaurant & Lounge in Russell.
Five of the six candidates on the ballot were present and pitched their credentials to approximately 30 attendees. Republican John Toplikar did not participate.
The office is responsible for regulating insurance compliance, educating and protecting consumers and overseeing insurance agents.
One audience member questioned how President Barack Obama's health care overhaul could be voided in Kansas.
Republican Beverly Gossage, who lives outside Eudora and owns HSA Benefits Consulting, said there are three options. The law could be replaced, the Supreme Court could rule subsidies are banned in states that did not set up an exchange and Kansas could belong to a health care compact without presidential approval.
Democrat Dennis Anderson, an Overland Park businessman who trains insurance agents, said the legislation does provide some benefits to Kansans. Senior citizens' "donut hole" for prescription drugs is closing, insurance companies cannot deny new customers because of pre-existing conditions and lifetime dollar limits on health care benefits were scrapped under the Affordable Care Act.
The state needs a leader to look beyond political issues, Anderson said.
"We deal with the issues," he said. "We do it like Kansas: we take reality, we work with those things to pull back the layers, put bias and politics aside and consider at the end of the day what's the best for our citizens and the state of Kansas."
Republican David J. Powell, a licensed insurance agent from El Dorado with 37 years of experience, said he is deeply familiar with the ACA.
"I've read Obamacare and written books on it ... I've found the loopholes that I will use against the law," Powell said. "I know insurance. I have experience in insurance, and I have a passion to help you."
Republican Ken Selzer, a certified public accountant in the insurance industry from the Kansas City Area, said electing Republicans to Congress this fall will change the law.
"We need to get a Republican-majority Senate, and it's looking more and more positive now as people, I think, begin to understand across the United States how incredibly costly and unaffordable this Obamacare act will be," Selzer said.
Republican Clark Shultz, a state senator from Lindsborg, said Congress must improve the health care law.
A second question asked the candidates' views on the Kansas Firefighter Relief Act. The program, which all the candidates supported, uses funds from an insurance tax to aid firefighters who die or are injured at work.
Workers' compensation was discussed.
Selzer said the National Council on Compensation Insurance should open board member seats beyond insurance companies to possibly change the workers' comp process.
Powell said companies can educate employees and implement safety measures to discourage workplace injuries.
Gossage said the state's Department of Labor and Insurance Department must work together to be more effective.
Regarding a question about reducing the number of uninsured drivers, Shultz said there is no "magic solution" because people need to decide if they want to enact stronger measures such as jail time rather than police just issuing a ticket.
The primary election for state insurance commissioner is Aug. 5.