JEFFERSON CITY - Lawmakers accused the University of Missouri Monday of hiring a lobbyist specifically to kill a bill aimed at lowering the state's health care costs.
MU spokesman Joe Moore said the university recently did hire a new lobbyist to advocate for the university on numerous issues -- not just the health care bill.
The controversy surrounds legislation that would create a Division of Community Health, a new state government office that would combine all health care programs for state workers. The bill's sponsor, Sen. James Mathewson, D-Sedalia, said consolidating health care programs could save the state money.
The bill would also establish an 11-member panel -- including a university representative -- to discuss health care options for the state. If the committee concludes it would not be beneficial to consolidate the plans, Mathewson said he would scrap the proposal.
But University of Missouri officials have voiced concerns about the possibility of consolidating the health care programs. MU currently has its own health care plan that offers lower insurance premiums than the state plan.
That concern has turned into an all-out effort by the university to kill the bill, according to Mathewson.
Flanked by lawmakers from both parties, Mathewson claimed the university is using taxpayer dollars to hire a top lobbyist to defeat this particular bill. He said he believes the lobbyist is one of the most visible in the state -- Harry Gallagher.
Gallagher would not comment on whether he was hired by the university to defeat the health care bill.
Moore said he did not know how much it cost to hire the new lobbyist.
Mathewson also said the reason he introduced the legislation was to generate discussion on possible ways to save the state money and is angry the university is choosing not to participate.
"We want their information. We want them to be a participant," Mathewson said. "Instead they're refusing to be a part of it. I'm sorry they've taken this position. I think it's a ridiculous position."