Hopes for health care legislation end with session
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Hopes for health care legislation end with session

Date: May 15, 2009
By: Rebecca Beitsch
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Any hope for health care legislation in the 2009 Missouri session died when both chambers adjourned at 6 p.m. Friday.

The situation became bleak when House leadership recessed early on Thursday and indicated they would refuse to begin official negotiations on health care legislation, known as a conference committee, unless the Senate was able to pass an economic development bill by midnight. The Senate debated the bill late in the evening but did not pass an economic development bill until Friday morning.

The House did not bring up any health care legislation Friday, saying only that they did not like any Senate-proposed plan.

House bill handler Doug Ervin, R-Holt, said it was unfortunate that the two issues were tied together, but earlier conversations had not seemed promising. 

"At least in terms of having conversations in preparation for the thought we might have a conference committee substitute we could present to the House and the Senate, it was pretty clear when we had those discussions that we weren't going to reach any common ground," said Ervin.

The House and Senate both passed a health care bill, the Senate bill giving coverage to 35,000 working parents who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, the House version giving coverage to 20,000 people who are unable to get insurance due to preexisting conditions.

"Their plan was based on income. Our plan is based on health need. And I think that's the biggest difference," said Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, another House bill handler.

Individuals in both chambers expressed disappointment at the House's decision to hold up the bill's progress with their demand for an economic development bill.

"It just frustrates me that we are letting people that redeem tax credits around this state hold people without health care hostage," said Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, as the Senate debated the economic development bill late into the night.

When it became apparent that the legislative process would stunt Senate Bill 306 from reaching a conference, bill sponsor Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, made a last-ditch effort to revive his efforts by attaching a new version as an amendment to another bill dealing with food stamps for the elderly.

Dempsey said he was willing to change the income requirement for his bill if it meant bringing more uninsurables in under a later phase of the plan but could not get any specifics from the House.

"I said if that is not satisfactory to you what would be? Do you want to cover 20 to 40 percent (income earned as a percentage of the Federal Poverty Level) and use the rest toward the uninsurables. Twenty to 35 percent? Give me a position that's somewhere in between the House position and the Senate position, that I can go back to the Senate and try to sell to my colleagues. And I was never given an answer," said Dempsey.

The House members also cited the influence of lobbyists, specifically the Missouri Hospital Association, that had too much hold on the Senate plan.

Covering working parents or uninsurables wasn't the only part of the health care debate. Both the House and the Senate voted down SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The House made a motion to reconsider the issue, but the bill was ultimately voted down again.

Efforts on a bill that would mandate insurance companies cover autism also never made it to the governor's desk--an issue the governor said could be key to calling a special session.