Blunt introduces new health care plan
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Blunt introduces new health care plan

Date: January 25, 2007
By: Arlene L. Bishop
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missourians would have an entirely new health plan under the Medicaid plan Gov. Matt Blunt proposed in his third State of the State address. To replace Medicaid, which is set to end in June 2008, Blunt prosed Missouri HealthNet.

"What I propose is not a minor reform," he said. "It is an entirely new system."

The crux of the new system is prevention.  It provides for the health care home, which Blunt had discussed in a series of news conferences earlier. In his address, he said that the homes would take a holistic approach by assessing risk, devising plans for improved health and using prevention to reduce emergency room visits and hospitalization.

Bob Quinn, Executive Director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare took issue with the prevention aspect of the governor's speech.

"An emphasis on prevention and wellness? That's good advice for all of us, in term of our health care, but for those that are disabled and have chronic diseases, prevention and wellness is not what they need," he said.

Blunt also said that HealthNet would utilize available technology to improve health care, pay providers by quality rather than by volume, and provide incentives to participants.  He said the new system would provide participants with choices, which would drive down costs and improve quality.

Blunt also plans to increase Missourians' access to health care by offering tax incentives to small-business employers that provide health insurance for their employees.

"My plan could eliminate that tax for 87 percent of employers and virtually all of our small businesses paying the tax," he said.

Blunt also offered five ideas aimed at reducing the cost of insurance: provide tax breaks to employers to provide health care coverage for employees, allow employees to transfer their insurance from one job to the next, allow the uninsured to act as one purchasing group to get a lower cost, and allow insurance premiums to be paid with tax-free money.

Senate Democratic Leader Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis began the news conference that followed the governor's speech by calling it "fluff, no substance". She spoke against the tax cuts the governor proposed. "The data that we have accumulated, the research that we have shows that the people that would reap any benefits from a tax cut, a Social Security tax cut are the people who least need it."

Coleman also said she would have liked to have heard more about restoring health care to those who lost it during the cuts the legislature made in 2005.

House Democratic Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia agreed with Coleman's comments and said there was something missing from the governor's address. He said he failed to address the cuts that were made in 2005 and the Missourians who lost their health care as a result. 

"I didn't hear anything tonight that led anyone to believe that those folks are going to have their health care restored and that's just flat wrong," he said.

Quinn agreed with the Democratic consensus.

"The principle deficiency is that it doesn't take care of everyone who's currently not covered, and certainly those who lost coverage," he said.

As part of the Medicaid cuts passed by the legislature in 2005, the program is set to expire in 2008.  Legislative leaders are treating this year as their deadline because if they wait until next year, it would require a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate to put any new program into effect before the June 30, 2008 termination of the program.