House won't pursue health care expansion for low-income kids

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri House on Tuesday voted down an effort to resurrect Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to expand health insurance funding for low-income children.

House supporters of the program pushed to include a discussion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, also known as SCHIP, in its conference with the Senate about the state's health care budget. They were defeated in a 73-85 vote.

The children's health program uses both state and federal money to pay for the health insurance of low-income children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

House Budget Committee Chair Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said further expansion of the program would put Missouri in an even more difficult financial situation.

"Hopefully everyone in this chamber understands the challenges that we as a state face by going out $24 million of General Revenue (state funds) farther on that limb," he said.

In his proposed budget for the next budget year, which begins July 1, Nixon recommended a $81.8 million expansion of the program.

Neither the House nor the Senate has expanded funding for the program to the degree Nixon recommended.  The House approved a total budget increase for the program of less than $2 million.  The Senate approved an increase of less than $4 million.

Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, said the General Assembly should be willing to spend additional general revenue monies to obtain federal funds for insuring Missouri children.

"The Senate has given back our budget bills that are close to $900 million more than what came out of the House," he said. "And Mr. Speaker, what is not included in there is the $23 million that we would use to leverage $84 million of federal money to cover this."

However, Icet said some of LeVota's figures were inaccurate. According to the budget chairman, the Senate's proposed budget used all $900 million available under the federal budget stabilization fund. The House's budget proposal used only $600 million, leaving a $300 million difference in usage of those funds.

Rep. Doug Ervin, R-Holt, said when the one-time federal funds had been used, taxes would have to be raised to sustain the program.

"This idea, this notion that making health care affordable is simply picking someone else's pocket to pay for it has got to stop," he said. "Yeah, there's a lot of federal money that you can get to match, I understand that, but you can still get broke shopping savings."

Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence, said the program would ultimately be self-sustaining.

"Mr. Speaker, it won't cost this state anything because within a year, two years for sure, through sales tax and income tax, those federal dollars along with that one state dollar will bring in as much or more than what this program is going to cost us," he said.

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