Health care will once again be a big topic of discussion when the legislature returns to Jefferson City in January, but that discussion could be shaped in large part by how health care legislation plays out in Washington.
State lawmakers are closely watching the developments in the health care debate in Washington. House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley (R-Perryville) says what Washington decides will have a big impact on what Jefferson City considers.
“With regards to health care, we need to get our hands around what they’re wanting to do at the federal level and then, hopefully, we can do something to dovetail it from here,” Tilley says.
House leadership last session blocked a proposal by Governor Nixon to expand health coverage to approximately 35,000 Missourians. Nixon proposed using an increase in the hospital tax to draw down more federal money to pay for the expansion. The Missouri Hospital Association supported the idea and hospitals backed it, reasoning they already are providing uncompensated care. An increase in federal reimbursement would also cover much, if not all, of the tax increase.
Democrat Mary Still of Columbia says the legislature made a mistake in rejecting the Nixon plan. She predicts the issue will rise to the top in the next session.
“I hope that we do have health care,” Still says, “I think the people of this state realize that there are people working, several jobs even, who can’t afford health care.”
While House Democrats focused on the uninsured, House Republicans focused on those struggling to obtain coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, a Republican from St. Joseph, doesn’t see why the state can’t achieve both objectives.
“Those are both very important populations,” Shields says. “And I believe we can come together and do a bill that will address both those populations. I am absolutely confident of that.”
It is estimated that 700,000 Missourians don’t have health insurance.