Chamber to push health care and minimum wage changes
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Chamber to push health care and minimum wage changes

Date: December 13, 2006
By: Rachel Higginbotham
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan said that among the major issues the Chamber plans to pursue for the next session will be a plan for small businesses that don't provide health insurance for employees.

Mehan said the Chamber will back a proposal by the departments of Social Services, Health and Seniors Services and Mental Health that was presented to Gov. Blunt on Dec. 7. The proposal is being considered by the governor as he formulates Missouri HealthNet, the replacement for the Missouri Medicaid Program, which will be implemented in 2008.

In the proposal, the departments recommended a program that provides incentives for small businesses to offset health care premiums. According to Mehan, 59 percent of people currently on Medicaid are employed by small businesses that don't provide health care.

Dave Dillon, a spokesperson for medical lobbying group Missouri Hospital Association, said that the number of employers that provide health care has dropped in recent years. Since 2000, the number has declined by six percentage points. The major reason cited for the drop was the price. 53 percent of businesses reported that they simply could not afford to provide benefits to their employees. The numbers come from a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Both Mehan and Dillon said they were unsure of the details of the plan, but that the Hospital Association was continuing to talk with the Chamber about it, and would provide information to the governor if it was needed.  

A spokesperson for the governor said the final Missouri HealthNet proposal will be presented at the governor's State of the State address on Jan. 24.

Mehan also said that the Chamber will work to change the wording of Proposition B, which passed overwhelmingly in November. The proposition will change the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour, with an annual adjustment for inflation.

"We were against this from the beginning," Mehan said. "What's problematic is the indexing. I'm not sure voters realized that this means the minimum wage will go up every year, regardless of how the economy is doing."

He added that it may be difficult to get the legislature to change the statutue because it passed by such a huge majority. "I think it'll be a hard pill to swallow, but we're still going to try."

But while Mehan said Proposition B was going to be a major issue next session, House Speaker Pro Tem Charles Bearden (R-St. Charles) said the legislature will have bigger fish to fry.

"I haven't really spoken to anybody about it (Proposition B)," Bearden said. "It won't be a matter of discussion."

Bearden said he also finds the annual adjustment problematic, but that "there are bigger issues before us. Like Social Security tax cuts and Medicaid."

"There will definitely come a point two or three years down the road when the legislature will have to look at it, but probably not this year," he said.

Mehan added that the Chamber will be supporting the governor's proposed sale of MOHELA assets, another hot-button issue for the legislature. The sale was proposed by the governor in January, and has since fallen flat after the resignation of several MOHELA board members and criticism from state officials and legislators. Mehan said that he thinks the sale will advance Missouri's economy by providing immediate construction jobs on state campuses, as well as long-term careers at expanding universities.

"We definitely don't want to wait anymore on this," Mehan said. "Missouri needs to start attracting talent and provide opportunities to make them stay."