JEFFERSON CITY - A state senator has shelved a bill opposed by the University of Missouri that would have put the university's health care plan under a new state agency.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, a longtime supporter of the university, admitted defeat Thursday.
"I'm waving the white flag. It's over," Mathewson said. "The university hired too many lobbyists. I can't overcome them."
The university opposes the bill, UM System lobbyist Jim Snider said, because it would have rolled the university's health care system into the state employee plan. He said that could have meant significantly higher premiums for state employees.
The university agreed to spend up to $48,000 to hire well-known lobbyist Harry Gallagher to defeat the bill, said UM spokesperson Joe Moore.
A visibly angry Mathewson also criticized the tactics he said UM's Vice President of Human Resources Kenneth Hutchinson used to kill the bill.
Hutchinson "chose to target every employee in the state with false information," Mathewson said.
He said Hutchinson sent out an e-mail with false information to university employees in an effort to scare them.
Hutchinson would not comment on Mathewson's accusations.
Instead of the continuing to push for the bill, Mathewson has offered a resolution that would establish a joint House/Senate committee to study the state's health care program. At the top of the resolution, in capital letters, it states "THE JOINT COMMITTEE AND ITS MEMBERS SHALL HAVE NO CONTACT, WRITTEN OR ORAL, WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI."
The controversial bill would have created a Division of Community Health, a new state government office that would combine all health care programs for state workers. The goal of the bill, Mathewson said, was to find ways cut state health care costs.
The legislation would also have established an 11-member panel --including a university representative -- to discuss health care options for the state.
Mathewson said he introduced the legislation to bring professionals together to brainstorm about ways to improve the state health care system efficiency and cost effectiveness.
"I never ever had any thought of bringing the university health care system under consolidation," he said. "That would have been goofy."
But according to the bill, the university would automatically become part of the state's health insurance plan as of July 2004. To prevent this, a majority of the Community Health panel would have to agree that the university could opt out.
It is because of this provision, Columbia's Sen. Ken Jacob, D, said, he could not support Mathewson's proposal. If, instead, the university could decide whether to participate, like other regional colleges, Jacob said he would have supported it.