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Senate leadership stalls HMO regulation

February 20, 1996
By: Angie Gaddy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - It's a test of patients. Sit and wait. And get bigger.

For the past three weeks legislators have avoided making decisive moves on HMO legislation.

Now, the Senate's top leader has asked his colleagues to keep things in the waiting room, and lump the bills into one big piece of legislation.

"Let's slow down and look at things," Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia told Senate Health committee members. "I feel concerned that we're not taking as much time as we should."

Mathewson cited seven different Senate bills that have been filed so far this year that deal with HMOs.

Senate committee chair, Sen. Jet Banks, D-St. Louis said he agreed with Mathewson's request.

"I'm going to honor the request of the Pro Tem," Banks said. In that time, Banks said he plans to group together some of the HMO regulation bills into one provision under his "Patient Fairness Act."

"What we need to keep in mind is that it is certainly is true HMOs have cut costs," Banks said. "But we need to look at how they cut costs."

"We want to provide citizens with service in the state of Missouri," Banks said. "We have to cut through some of the measures of red tape."

He predicts his managed health care package will pass out of the committee, but he said he can't predict what will happen on the Senate floor.

Tom McCarthy, a lobbyist for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas City said he likes the idea of one bill. He said the HMO industry is growing at enormous rate.

"It's like trying to build a car that's going down the road at 70 mph," McCarthy said. "It's the same for health care."

He said HMO lobbyists made the suggestion to Mathewson for one bill.

Lobbyists for the medical community said they were in limbo as to what will happen.

"I don't know what to make of it," said C.C. Swarens, director of the Missouri State Medical Association. "It's the first time I've seen anything like this."

The governor's office is maintaining it's hands-off approach to the health care issue.

"We're aware of what's going on," said Chris Sifford, Carnahan's spokesperson. "But we have no position on it."

Two years ago, Gov. Mel Carnahan tired to make health care reform a major legislative issue, but backed away due to opposition.