Waiting on the Next Step
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Waiting on the Next Step

Date: September 19, 2007
By: Lucie Wolken
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - An advocacy group for the poor says that Gov. Matt Blunt's new health-care plan is the first step in restoring Medicaid to Missourians but falls short of including "vulnerable" Missourians.

Blunt revealed his new Insure Missouri plan Tuesday to help low-income workers receive health insurance.  The new program has three phases, the first of which would begin in February and aims to extend health-care to working families who fall below the poverty line.

"I am not only surprised, but also very impressed with what I have seen of the plan.  There are still many unanswered questions, but the basic information looks very good.  It looks like man low-income Missouri parents could receive coverage again," said Amy Blouin, Executive Director of the Missouri Budget Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, informs the public of the state's budget options and how it affects low and moderate-income Missourians. 

The group has been critical of the Governor's actions in the past. 

Despite her optimism toward the new plan, Blouin says that there are still large groups that are still left out of the plan, most significantly seniors and the disabled.  Considering these groups absence from the proposal, Blouin says the plan falls short of restoring the health care in Missouri. 

"I am hoping that the Governor and the legislative will see this as the first step and will take another step to covering more people.  I think it needs to happen.  Will it?  I don't know," Blouin said.   

Blunt was widely criticized for his 2005 Medicaid cuts that eliminated coverage for nearly 100,000 Missourians and reduced the coverage for tens of thousands more.  Currently under Missouri law, a single mother loses eligibility for Medicaid once she earns up to $292 in a month.

The first phase of the plan would extend insurance to working parents with incomes up to 100 percent of poverty, or $20,650, for a family of four beginning in February.

Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party says that Insure Missouri plan is an admission on the governor's part for the damage caused by the 2005 Medicaid cuts.

"It was a good admission that Gov. Blunt realizes that he has singlehandedly caused a health-care crisis in the state, what really needs to be done is we need to restore the disastrous Medicaid cuts that Matt Blunt caused in the first place." Cardetti said.

Like Blouin, Cardetti said that missing from the plan is inclusion of "the most vulnerable of our society" -- children, seniors, and the disabled. 

The next two phases of the governor's plan will be affected by decisions in the General Assembly which will set the income level eligibility.  The second and third phase aims to qualify Missourians who make up to 185 percent of poverty, or $38,203 for a family of four. 

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R- Marble Hill has not yet issued a statement on the plan.

Other Republicans have come out in support of the new plan. 

"With Insure Missouri, we can drastically reduce the number of uninsured Missourians giving them ownership and choices in the health care plans and decisions they make for their families," Sen. Michael Gibbon, Senate President Pro Tem, said in a written statement. 

Attorney General Jay Nixon, Blunt's challenger in the 2008 governor's race, called Blunt's plan "misguided."

Blouin said that in order to restore health care in Missouri, legislators must work beyond partisanship.

"The next step is making sure that people with disabilities and seniors are not left behind.  There are tens of thousands of seniors and disabled, we need to pull them into this as well," Blouin said.  "Health care is proving to be the top issue in Missouri.  It is a critical issue and one where we all just need to work together."