Cold-hearted Missouri GOP House members hurt the poor
By Barb Shelly, Kansas City Star Editorial Page columnist
This is an expansion of a post below. It is running as my weekly opinion column in the Kansas City Star.
Say you’re a single mom who’s having a hard time. Maybe you lost a decent job and you’re waiting tables or working at a convenience store. Maybe you have headaches, or something worse. You think you should see a doctor, but you can’t pay.
Guess what? Republicans in the Missouri House this week killed a plan that would have provided health insurance for 35,000 people like you — parents who make up to 50 percent of the poverty level. We’re talking about an annual income of $11,025 for a family of four.
Guess what else? According to one of these Republicans, Tim Jones of Eureka, Mo., you are “plundering” the taxpayers.
According to Bryan Pratt of Lee’s Summit, you’re looking for “welfare,” not health care.
Confused? Perfectly understandable. The House vote defied logic.
The proposal would not have cost Missouri taxpayers a dime. Hospitals had offered to pay $52.5 million a year out of federal funds they receive for treating uninsured patients. Missouri could use that money to draw down an additional $93 million in federal money available for health care.
Hospitals liked the idea because it would have relieved pressure on their emergency rooms, where health care is costliest.
Business groups supported the proposal because it would have brought money into the state health care network, and because healthy employees are productive employees.
The Missouri Senate supported the plan because it would be good for the state.
Everyone liked the idea, except for 85 House Republicans, who outnumbered by 10 votes the House Democrats and a handful of GOP lawmakers who broke from their caucus.
With one week left in the legislative session, any hope of expanding access to health care in Missouri rests with lawmakers’ dubious ability to agree on a new way to use the funds that hospitals had offered, and the matching federal dollars.
Whatever plan they come up with will be more cumbersome and less accessible than a straightforward Medicaid expansion.
“The only possible reason not to do this is if you don’t like the governor,” said Democrat Jake Zimmerman, from St. Louis County, before Republicans rejected that expansion Thursday.
Well, there’s something to that. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon crafted the deal with the Missouri Hospital Association, and passage of the health care expansion would have given him bragging rights.
The heated debate on the House floor was made livelier by Pratt’s accusation that members of Nixon’s staff had attempted to bribe House members with hints of favors if they would vote for the bill.
Nixon’s office has denied the allegation.
At least two House members say a Nixon staffer told them “the governor likes to reward people who share his views.”
Pratt’s accusation should be investigated. Offering a favor in exchange for a vote, if that’s what happened, is improper and possibly illegal.
But the central issue is that the Missouri House is controlled by lawmakers who show open disdain for the poor. Even in today’s economy, they fault people for not securing good-paying jobs that offer health insurance. They falsely equate poverty with lack of initiative.
These Republicans have been in charge in Jefferson City for years, but they have not enacted a single measure to make health care more affordable and accessible for Missourians.
They haven’t passed a law to curb fraud and abuse in the state’s Medicaid system. They haven’t encouraged healthier habits, or transparency in health care pricing.
They are long on ideology, bereft of accomplishments.
Barbara Shelly is a member of the editorial board. She can be reached at email@example.com or 816-234-4594. She blogs at voices.kansascity.com