JEFFERSON CITY - After debate that consumed most of the day, the Missouri Senate passed a bill that would establish a not-for-profit organization to organize health insurance at reduced rates for children.
Under the bill proposed by the governor, a non-profit group - Healthy Missouri Children Corporation - would be established to offer health insurance low-income children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. The cost of the policies would be determined by a sliding scale tied to income level.
"We can pool kids together and get a quote from private insurers on a low-cost group health insurance policy," said Rep. Scott Lakin, D-Kansas City and sponsor of the bill.
Lakin estimates that a policy will cost between $25 and $50 a month. The board of directors of the non-profit ultimately would be responsible for the cost of the policies.
For much of the day, a Republican-led filibuster appeared to threaten the bill's chances.
Supporters say the bill will not cost the state any significant amount of money. As with earlier House debate on the measure, however, Republicans voiced fears the bill the was the first step to establishing state funding for child health insurance.
Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, and Sen. Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, charged the bill was part of a nationwide effort at government financed health care being orchestrated by a private foundation with interests in health care..
"There's an agenda afoot here," Kinder said.
Kinder warned of the dangers of sliding toward a "cradle to grave" welfare system.
"Who needs parents...We give them two meals a day," Kinder said, referring to school children who qualify for free meals. "Now we're going to take care of their medical needs."
Kinder warned that parents would "dump coverage in the private marketplace and sign up for this."
Kenney said the state plans to seek a grant for the program from a private foundation with connections to the medical supply company Johnson and Johnson. Johnson and Johnson, which manufactures medical supplies from "Q-tips to condoms," might have a plan to entrench themselves in state business, Kenney said.
An irate Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, who handled the bill in the Senate, replied that the state has already received 142 grants from the foundation since 1972.
Some senators became frustrated with the direction of the debate.
Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, said that opposition to the bill may stem from misguided reasons. He said that he heard that some opposition to the bill was due to the notion that it was "part of a Clinton plan."
"I don't care if it's part of a Clinton health care bill, a Reagan health care bill or a Bob Dole health care bill," Staples said to the Senate. "What we're talking about here is medical treatment for the children of Missouri...poor children who are less fortunate than your children and your grandchildren."
The Senate narrowly approved an amendment that would bar public funds from going to the program and another that would extend Medicaid eligibility.
Sen. Dave Klarich, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored the Medicaid amendment said that his plan would allow 58,000 children under the age of 18 to be covered by Medicaid. He said that the state would save money and cover more children under his amendment.
But Quick said that he thought the amendment was added to kill the bill by boosting the price tag that Quick said could exceed $100 million per year.
Lakin said that there were still issues to be resolved with the bill. For example, making more people eligible for Medicaid could be incompatible with the provision that no state funds go to the program.
About 40 percent of the funds for Medicaid come from the state. The other sixty percent is matched by the federal government. Lakin did not know if Medicaid coverage could be extended to more people without involving more state funds. These inconsistencies would be worked out in conference, Lakin said.
Earlier figures estimated that 115,000 children would be covered by the plan. Lakin said that the estimates change with changes in the bill.