Advocacy group calls Gov. Blunt’s health care plan a first step

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 | 9:26 p.m. CDT; updated 11:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — An advocacy group for the poor said that Gov. Matt Blunt’s new health care plan is the first step in restoring government-subsidized health care to thousands of Missourians but falls short of including whom they called “vulnerable” Missourians.

Blunt revealed his new Insure Missouri plan to help low-income workers receive health insurance Tuesday. The new program has three phases, the first of which would begin in February and aims to extend health care to working families who fall below the poverty line.

Over the next five years, the plan is projected to gradually extend health care coverage to 189,787 people at an ultimate annual cost of $952 million.

“I am not only surprised but also very impressed with what I have seen of the plan. There are still many unanswered questions, but the basic information looks very good. It looks like many low-income Missouri parents could receive coverage again,” said Amy Blouin, executive director of the Missouri Budget Project.

The Missouri Budget Project is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that informs the public of the state’s budget options and how they affect low- and moderate-income Missourians. The group has been critical of the governor’s actions in the past.

The first phase of the Insure Missouri plan would extend insurance to working parents with incomes of up to 100 percent of the poverty line, or $20,650, for a family of four, beginning in February.

Despite Blouin’s optimism for the new plan, seniors and the disabled are still left out of the plan, Blouin said. Because those groups aren’t covered, Blouin said the plan falls short of restoring the health care in Missouri.

“I am hoping that the governor and the legislature will see this as the first step and will take another step to covering more people,” Blouin said. “I think it needs to happen. Will it? I don’t know.”

Blunt was widely criticized for his Medicaid cuts in 2005 that eliminated coverage for nearly 100,000 Missourians and reduced the coverage for tens of thousands more. Currently under Missouri law, a single mother loses eligibility for Medicaid once she earns up to $292 per month.

Blunt’s new plan essentially restores coverage for some of those adults. It does so under the auspices of private health insurance plans similar to the managed care plans already used for Medicaid recipients along the Interstate 70 corridor from St. Louis to Kansas City.

By subsidizing private insurers, Blunt said the plan also will be less costly for the state than if those patients been covered through traditional Medicaid. Of that $952 million cost in five years, for example, Blunt projects less than $47 million to come from the state’s general tax revenues, with the rest coming from federal funds and existing hospital taxes.

Hospitals already pay a special tax that is used to draw down federal Medicaid dollars. That money then is returned to the Medicaid program in general and to hospitals specifically to cover part of their costs of treating uninsured patients.

Under Blunt’s plan, $269 million of those hospital taxes would be diverted to the Insure Missouri program by 2012. That would mean less money to hospitals for the cost of treating the uninsured, but more money to them for patients who now would be insured.

Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said that the Insure Missouri plan is an admission on the governor’s part of the damage caused by the 2005 Medicaid cuts.

“It was a good admission that Gov. Blunt realizes that he has single-handedly caused a health-care crisis in the state. What really needs to be done is we need to restore the disastrous Medicaid cuts that Matt Blunt caused in the first place.” Cardetti said.

Like Blouin, Cardetti said that “the most vulnerable of our society” were missing from the plan.

The income level eligibility for the next two phases of the governor’s plan will be affected by decisions in the General Assembly. The second and third phases aim to qualify Missourians who make up to 185 percent of the poverty line, or about $38,203 for a family of four.

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, has not yet issued a statement on the plan.

Other Republicans have come out in support of the new plan.

“With Insure Missouri, we can drastically reduce the number of uninsured Missourians, giving them ownership and choices in the health care plans and decisions they make for their families,” said state Sen. Michael Gibbons, Senate president pro tem, in a written statement.

Attorney General Jay Nixon, Blunt’s challenger in the 2008 governor’s race, called Blunt’s plan “misguided.”

Blouin said that in order to restore health care in Missouri, legislators must work beyond partisanship.

“The next step is making sure that people with disabilities and seniors are not left behind. There are tens of thousands of seniors and disabled; we need to pull them into this as well,” Blouin said. “Health care is proving to be the top issue in Missouri. It is a critical issue and one where we all just need to work together.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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