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Carnahan pushes for child health bill's passage

May 07, 1998
By: Brent P. Johnson
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan twice paid a personal visit to Senate Republican floor leader Steve Ehlmann in an effort to increase the chances for passage of his child health coverage bill.

Slightly differing versions of the bill have already passed both the Senate and the House. To avoid possible delay in a conference committee and then further voting in both chambers, Carnahan instead proposed enacting by executive order certain restrictions that Ehlmann introduced and the Senate passed as instructions for its conferees Wednesday night.

Ehlmann did not agree to Carnahan's proposal.

Carnahan said he thinks opposition in the House particularly has shown unity in delaying votes on the bill and fears the bill would not come to a final vote before the session ends if it is sent to conference. "I'm afraid this is about sending the bill to a place where it will be scuttled."

The bill would extend Medicaid health coverage to families living at three times the federal poverty level. An estimated 175,000 children live in Missouri without health insurance, many because their parents earn too much money to currently qualify for Medicaid, earn too little to afford private health insurance or do not receive it through their employers.

"It's a case of where the procedures and the process are going to be the enemy, rather than the merit of the ideas," Carnahan said. "Ehlmann's still insisting on procedures he knows will kill the bill."

Several other Republicans opposed Carnahan's tactic. Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, rejected the idea that the limitations could be implemented by the current governor but allowed to lapse by future governors and without legislative oversight. "The next director of social services can come in and change rules and regulations, and we're off and running two years later."

Republicans who have been filibustering the bill portray it as an extension of welfare into the middle class. A family of four at 300 percent of the poverty level earns $49,350 in income. The bill designs a system of variable co-payments and premiums for families above 185 percent.

"We don't believe in expanding welfare to families making just under $50,000," said Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "We will try to limit it to at least 250 percent." Over 250 percent, Kinder says, "We are reaching no one not covered by private insurance."

The bill would utilize the $51.6 million that Congress made available to Missouri in the Children's Health Insurance Program it passed last year. The state would be required to match the federal funds with $20 million of its own.