JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon's plan to make a children's health care program more affordable for families has failed because of Republican reluctance to commit more state money for the program's expansion.
A Nixon spokesman said Wednesday that the Democratic governor was disappointed at the plan's demise but would continue pushing for it in the future.
Nixon had proposed to eliminate or reduce the premiums paid by families to participate in the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The changes were projected to attract an additional 16,000 children to the program, resulting in costs of $7.7 million in state revenues and $35.3 million in federal funds.
But without money in the budget, the premium changes cannot occur.
House Republicans refused to fund Nixon's plan and rejected numerous Democratic attempts to do so during budget debates earlier this session. Late Tuesday night, Senate Democrats sought to add partial funding for Nixon's children's health care plan. But the Republican-led chamber defeated the amendment and then passed the budget without the funding.
"Gov. Nixon believes providing health care to more Missouri children is not only this right thing to do for our neighbors, it's the smart thing to do for our economy," Nixon spokesman Jack Cardetti said in a statement Wednesday.
The children's health care program is intended for families who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance for their children.
A family of three earning between $2,714 to $3,330 monthly — about 150 percent to 185 percent of the federal poverty level — currently pays a monthly premium of $68 for the children's program.
Nixon had proposed to eliminate the premium for those families and to reduce it for others earning up to 225 percent of the federal poverty level.
On Tuesday night, Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, sought to amend into the budget just the portion of Nixon's plan that would waive premiums for families earning less than 185 percent of the poverty level. That was projected to cost $5.8 in state revenues and $23.1 million in federal funds.
His amendment was defeated on a largely party-line vote of 22-10.
Several Republicans said they were unwilling to commit state dollars to the expanded program, fearing it would grow and have to be cut in future years.
But some Republicans indicated they might consider Nixon's plan if there were a creative funding arrangement. They pointed to a deal in which hospitals have agreed to increase their state taxes and forgo some of the state money they normally receive for treating uninsured patients to fund Nixon's separate Medicaid expansion for low-income custodial parents. That proposal is included in the Senate's version of the budget.
But Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said Wednesday that the group's members cannot afford to increase their tax rate further next year to finance Nixon's proposed premium change for the children's health care program.
"Hospitals are feeling the pain in this environment as well," Dillon said. "While we're willing to do additional coverage, it's not an unlimited well" of money.
Dillon said hospitals might be in a better financial position to consider financing the children's health care expansion in the future based on the natural growth of their tax revenues.