Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt believes experience gained through service as a legislator and work as a pharmacist laid a solid foundation for her election as Kansas insurance commissioner.
Schmidt, a Topeka Republican elected 14 years ago to the Senate, said she was committed to advocating on behalf of Kansans as a statewide elected official.
"I became a pharmacist because I wanted to help people, and I want to help people now," she said. "I believe I have a reputation as a state senator of asking questions and getting answers."
The state's insurance commissioner controls an independent department with regulatory and educational roles in the insurance and securities markets. The department audits insurance companies for compliance with state law and works to settle disputes between insurance companies and consumers.
Republican Ken Selzer, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, will vacate the commissioner's job in January. Schmidt won the August primary against Clark Shultz, one of Selzer's deputies.
She will be on the November ballot with Nathaniel McLaughlin, a Democrat and former health industry administrator.
Schmidt, 63, said the department had to improve recruitment of insurance companies to Kansas, which would expand competition and benefit cost-sensitive consumers. At the same time, she said, bad actors in the business must be addressed.
She said witnessing consequences of inadequate medical coverage and life-or-death decisions forced upon people in desperate circumstances would influence her work as insurance commissioner.
"Working as a pharmacist, I've seen the effects of long-term untreated diabetes," she said during a meeting with the editorial advisory board of The Topeka Capital-Journal. "I've had patients who would inject insulin every other day because it was too expensive. The consequences of that are horrendous."
Kansas must do a better job of controlling the cost of prescription medications, Schmidt said.
Schmidt said she supported expansion of Medicaid eligibility to provide more low-income Kansans with access to preventative health care. Lack of coverage, especially in rural areas, is a major public policy challenge, she said.
"What I have found is, farmers in particular, tell me they send their spouse to town to get a job with the city or county to get insurance, because it's just tough to get insurance," she said.
She said reform of the Affordable Care Act must retain provisions preventing discrimination against individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and allowing children to stay on a parent's health insurance policy until age 26.