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Columbia Missourian

Nixon unveils health care plan in Columbia

By MARTY SWANT
July 22, 2008 | 9:52 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon unveiled a five-point plan for increasing Missourians’ access to affordable health care during a visit to the Columbia-Boone County Health Department on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s no secret. Missouri’s health care system is broken,” Nixon said during the news conference, which was one of three he held across the state. He also visited St. Louis and Kansas City.

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Nixon said that as governor he would restore the 2005 Medicaid cuts signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.

“When Gov. Blunt slashed health care from 400,000 Missourians in 2005, he created a health care crisis that has only gotten worse,” Nixon said. “Missourians lost coverage overnight, families who still had insurance saw their premiums skyrocket and our state turned away nearly $2 billion in federal health care funds.”

Nixon also plans to expand coverage to the 125,000 Missouri children that he said lack health care. He said he would restore coverage to children who lost coverage in 2005 and allow families with incomes of up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level to buy coverage through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Nixon’s third objective is to increase competition among providers and to distribute more information to the public so residents can compare health care options side by side.

“Market forces will drive down costs,” he said.

Nixon said he also would try to make the state’s health care system more effective by establishing a Blue Ribbon Commission to modernize health care delivery and management.

The final component of his initiative would be to focus on prevention and personal responsibility, such as ensuring prenatal care, reducing childhood obesity and encouraging people to abstain from tobacco.

Although neither Kenny Hulshof nor Sarah Steelman, the leading Republican candidates for governor, have released a specific health care strategy, their campaign representatives said Nixon is taking the wrong approach.

“Jay Nixon’s plan to simply hit the reset button is inefficient for patients and too expensive for taxpayers,” Hulshof spokesman Scott Baker said. “Missouri taxpayers can’t afford a ride in Jay Nixon’s time machine to the past.”

Baker said health care is a high priority for Hulshof and noted that Hulshof serves on the Health Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Baker said Hulshof has some innovative ideas for how to approach Missourians’ problems with health insurance.

“This is something he’s very passionate about,” Baker said, adding that Hulshof will take his time developing a proposal. “He wants to get it right.”

Steelman spokesman Spence Jackson echoed Baker’s remarks about Nixon’s plan.

“There is no way (Nixon’s) proposals can be implemented without imposing a massive tax increase on working people who are struggling to pay high gas and high food prices,” Jackson said. He added that Steelman is in the middle of a multiple-city tour and that health care is one of the most issues discussed.