JEFFERSON CITY - Top leaders in Missouri's Senate have split over the issue of whether the closing days of the legislative session should deal with major changes in health-care insurance and HMOs.
While Senate Pres. Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, has sworn off addressing any managed care legislation until he forms a committee to address the various pieces of legislation floating through the chambers, Senate Majority Leader Jet Banks, D-St. Louis, said he wants to see major changes addressed before the May 17 deadline.
"I think we need to deal with the problem before the committee is appointed," Banks said. "We've got bills out here that deal with managed care. The Pres. Pro Tem does not want those bills debated on the floor until he gets the committee out, and I disagree with him on that."
For the past several years, lawmakers have faced demands for laws requiring insurance and HMOs provide minimum coverage for a growing number of specific medical needs such as eye-care, emergency care and ambulance services
Mathewson previously said he wanted to see a committee made up of legislators and health-care groups formed to address various health-care bills as one big measure. That is on hold for now.
"I hoped to get it set up before the session is over, but I've spoken with some of the members of the health care industry and it may be later," Mathewson said.
Banks made a recommendation to have a Joint Committee on Public Health and Welfare look at the issues.
"The bills out there right now address the issue of managed care and the protection of the citizens out there, and I think that's what we need to be working on right now rather than waiting for another year to get the results back from the study."
Although lawmakers have passed some limited issues involving the health care industry, like the coverage of child immunization and 48-hour hospital stays, Missouri's legislature has not taken up any major measures.
Banks said since it is so late in the session, his only plans to see major action would be through amendments to House bills that could come through his chamber.
Members of the medical community and the insurance industry said they are still waiting on a decision from the legislature. They want to be part of a committee that would review legislative action after this session's end.
"The marketplace is not driven by legislation," said Daniel Landon, lobbyist for Missouri Hospital Association. "Legislation is usually trying to catch up."
Randy Scherr, lobbyist for Prudential Insurance, said he would like to be able to sit down with all parties and try to explain the insurance industry's concerns.
"I think it's important to have knowledgeable people on there with respect to managed care and health care delivery so they can ask the right questions, to challenge statements," he said.
Banks said he would rather see a legislator-only committee.
"What's new that the committee can't find that we already haven't been working on?"