The Missouri House of Representatives has turned down a $50 million dollar grant from the federal government for its connection to the Affordable Health Care Act.
An amendment offered during budget debate would have authorized the Department of Social Services to use that federal grant to upgrade its computer systems. Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey (D-Kansas City) told the body the purpose of the grant is to set up a health insurance exchange. “What we’re trying to do with this amendment is enact Obamacare through the backdoor and call it a computer upgrade. I simply can’t support that.”
Silvey also criticized Governor Jay Nixon, saying his administration had applied for this grant after the legislature failed to pass a health insurance exchange bill, with plans to spend it outside of the legislature. Silvey says the administration was asked to include the matter in the supplemental budget, or in a governor’s amendment during the normal budget process, neither of which happened.
Instead, Silvey says the legislature received a letter from Budget Director Linda Luebbering about the grant. “When the Governor wanted to give $40 million to higher ed from the mortgage settlement we got a governor’s amendment. When he wants to spend $50 million on a backdoor Obamacare, we get a letter from the budget director. So I made the decision that as much as I enjoy the budget director and the job that she does, that she doesn’t get to make amendments to the budget and so I didn’t put it in.”
House Democrats argued against turning down the money. Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) said the money is not necessary to have a health care exchange. “There is nothing in the law or the regulations that requires the health care exchange for this to happen. Nothing at all … The fact of the matter is our computers are falling apart and we could fix this problem with this money.”
Kelly agreed with Silvey’s criticism of the Governor for not sending an amendment and conceded that the grant would upgrade the computers the federal government would use to establish a health insurance exchange. He disagreed with Silvey that the goal is to pave the way for the health care exchange. “The computer system takes care of all our healthcare whether there is an exchange or not.”
Democrats argued unsuccessfully that some of the money could be used to fill other budget needs, such as the $28 million dollar supplement for the blind that was eliminated in the House’s budget plan.
Representative Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) told her colleagues, “That’s my money. That’s my constituents’ money. That’s our taxpayer dollars that we can utilize to improve our computer systems regardless of whether anyone in this room is willing or unwilling to accept the fact that the Affordable Care Act may just be coming down the pike.”
The amendment was defeated 52-98, mostly along party lines.