JEFFERSON CITY — A House committee is seeking to enlist the help of Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan in its quest to block a government-subsidized health care program backed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.
The governor’s Insure Missouri program is projected to expand health coverage to more than 54,500 low-income working parents after it takes effect March 14.
But the House Special Committee on Healthcare Transformation, led by Rep. Rob Schaaf, has cast a critical eye on the program. Many of its members contend Blunt went beyond legislators’ intent when he used a provision in a budget bill as the legal foundation to launch the new program.
Before the program can begin, the Department of Social Services must set up rules governing how it will work. That typically can take many months, because an agency first must publish a proposed rule, then take public comment before issuing a final version.
But the department is using an emergency procedure that allows rules to take effect faster — as soon as 10 days after they are filed — and without the normal public scrutiny period.
In its filing with the secretary of state’s office, the department said an emergency rule is necessary because of a compelling government interest “in reducing the number of Missourians without health insurance.”
The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated the number of Missourians lacking health insurance at 772,000.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Carnahan, the House committee asserts “there is no emergency nor compelling state interest” to adopt the emergency rule. The legislators urge Carnahan to reject it and instead allow the program to be implemented under normal rule-making procedures, which would delay its planned starting date.
The letter was signed by Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, and all seven other committee members, but Rep. Curt Dougherty, D-Independence, later retracted his name.
The other lawmakers signing the letter were Rep. Sam Page, of Creve Coeur, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor; Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston; Rep. Doug Ervin, R-Kearney; Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin; Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff; and Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City.
In his own letter Wednesday to Blunt, Dougherty said he had been “misled into signing the letter” and pledged to “do everything possible to help implement your plan.”
Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart said the secretary of state’s office is reviewing the proposed emergency rule and no decision has been made yet on whether to publish it.
Within the past week, Blunt’s office has highlighted various groups backing his plan, including the AARP, the Missouri Hospital Association, Missouri Primary Care Association and Missouri Association of Rural Health Clinics.
The governor’s office referred a request for comment Wednesday to the Department of Social Services, which had no immediate comment.
When Blunt was secretary of state, he refused to publish a rule backed by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden’s administration that allowed union fees to be deducted from the paychecks of nonunion state employees. Blunt contended the fees violated a state law against involuntary deductions from state employees’ paychecks.
A Cole County judge ordered Blunt to publish the rule in late 2004. He complied. But before the rule could take effect, Blunt took office as governor in January 2005 and immediately rescinded Holden’s executive order authorizing collective bargaining, essentially making the rule moot.