Missouri Senator urges committee to insure more than 200,000 low-income residents.
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Missouri Senator urges committee to insure more than 200,000 low-income residents.

Date: March 3, 2009
By: Chance Seales
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 306

JEFFERSON CITY - A revived health care bill based on last year's Insure Missouri legislation received no opposition in a Tuesday committee hearing.

The bill would give more than 200,000 Missourians health insurance.

Last year's bill died at the end of session when Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, the chairman of the House Healthcare Transformation Committee refused to bring the bill to the floor without reforming hospital expansion provisions. 

 

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R- St. Charles County, told the Senate Seniors, Families and Public Health Committee Tuesday the plan would keep thousands of uninsured Missouri citizens out of emergency rooms visits that are expensive to the government.

 

Dempsey said there are thousands of Missouri workers who don't qualify for Medicaid coverage, but also don't have the funds to purchase private insurance. Over 700,000 Missourians are currently uninsured. 

 

Dempsey said uninsured people frequently seek basic services at hospital emergency rooms, and the goal of his bill is, "getting them out of the emergency room, which is many cases reactive care, and getting them to a primary care physician." Many patients receive treatment at emergency rooms, but that does not always translate into payments for hospitals.

 

Under the current system, unpaid costs at Missouri ERs are covered largely by federal dollars. Dempsey's "Show-Me Health Coverage" plan would redirect much of those funds to providing preventive and primary health coverage to Missouri's uninsured.

 

Representatives from hospitals and insurance companies also appeared before the committee to voice their support for the initiative.  There were no witnesses in opposition.

 

Opposition, however, could be found amongst members of the House. Schaaf said that although increasing health care coverage is commendable, it should not be subsidized by Missouri taxpayers.  He said paying for many citizens' insurance amounts to "health welfare" and expressed concern that Missourians who work and carry health insurance are left to foot the bill for others who do not.

 

Eligibility for the program is determined by where one falls on the Federal Poverty Level scale.  In 2008 the poverty line was defined as an annual income of $10,400 or less for one person.

 

If an individual falls at or below the poverty line, they would not be required to contribute any money for their coverage.  In the program, as income increases, so does required personal contribution, up to $83 per month for people earning $23,400 annually.

 

The estimated cost for the bill has not yet been released.  However, the initiative's predecessor was projected to cost the state of Missouri at least $64 million per year. 

 

Dempsey's proposal will face a committee vote in the coming weeks before moving on to the same House committee that stalled the bill last year.