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Columbia Missourian

Republicans file Insure Missouri legislation

March 13, 2008 | 10:00 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — After months of deliberation, Missouri Republicans have filed legislation to implement the governor’s proposed Insure Missouri plan to expand government-backed health care coverage for more Missourians.

But the various bills that have been filed go further than the governor’s original idea, even including provisions to establish requirements for school physical education courses.

The first bill to be filed using the phrase “Insure Missouri” would provide health care to an additional 150,000 people not covered by MO HealthNet, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County. The bill, however, makes the exact number of people covered subject to the legislature’s annual appropriation.

The bill is designed to provide health care to people who make up to 225 percent of the federal poverty level whereas MO HealthNet. Missouri’s former Medicaid program, covers only those under 100 percent of the federal poverty level. To be eligible, a person must be between 19 and 65 years old and not eligible for health insurance under their employer. An applicant may not have had health insurance for the past six months.

The bill would provide tax credits to small employers to use to provide insurance to their employees.

Funding for the program would come from a court settlement with the tobacco industry, settled about a decade ago.

Missourians who apply and are accepted into the program would be required to contribute a percentage of their income — anywhere from 1 to 5 percent — to a health savings account used to purchase their own private insurance. Any money left over at the end of the year could be applied to the next year.

Dempsey said the savings-account provision would give people a greater responsibility over their own health care.

“When you’re spending your own money and making a contribution, there’s a lot greater awareness of what you’re spending it on,” Dempsey said.

Bob Quinn, executive director for the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, said he’s glad the legislature is dealing with the health care issue in the state and thinks it’s a good first step.

“As long as when it’s passed you don’t say ‘Well, we’re done.’ We just want to work with them to expand it to make it better,” Quinn said.

Senate Democratic Leader Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, did not have so many words of praise.

Coleman said Democrats are not satisfied with the bill because they would like to see a bill that takes the state back to the pre-2005 levels, before about 100,000 were cut from Medicaid under a budget-cutting plan pushed by Gov. Matt Blunt.

Rep. Judy Baker. D-Columbia, also expressed reservations.

“We need to address the problem of the uninsured, but we need a sensible way to do that,” she said. “I hope legislation will address the elderly and the disabled first and then move to working families. It’s a matter of priorities.”

Although the legislative session is at its mid-way point, Republican leaders voice determination to get a bill passed.

“Some version of it will move this session,” vowed the Senate’s GOP leader, Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.