Declare proposed health insurance changes DOA

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A measure proposed in the Missouri House by a St. Louis-area representative, concerning minimal health insurance coverage, deserves to be declared DOA.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, has drawn up a bill he and supporters say would keep working Missourians covered with at least "bare bones" coverage. Bare bones, though, don't do a body any good without some muscle attached. But Luetkemeyer's provision would make it possible for many businesses to strip muscle completely from their employees' coverage.

Representatives are correct that rising health insurance costs are crunching many small businesses, making it difficult to keep the "open" sign out. But the solution isn't making it more challenging for the men and women manning the store to cover their health care costs.

For more than a decade, Missouri law has mandated that health coverage include mammograms, child immunizations, maternity stays, tests for newborn infants and screenings for prostate and colon cancer. Luetkemeyer says this minimums -- mostly preventative measures -- have driven up the costs of offering health insurance 18 to 28 percent.

Anyone employed in either the private or public sector has more than likely seen a growing portion of their paycheck go for health insurance. It's a highly unpleasant annual ritual. Under HB 1278, you might not see a rate hike next year -- but when you went to the doctor to have your children vaccinated or when your wife is told she needs a mammogram to screen for breast cancer they could be told that the insurance company won't pick up any portion of the tab. That's no bargain for working Missourians.

In a letter to the bill's sponsor, Insurance Department Director Scott Lakin warned, "It is not unreasonable to assume that, someday, only limited mandate health insurance policies will be available to individuals and small employers." What Luetkemeyer's measure would due is remove any mandated minimum coverage, a sort of "floor" on health insurance.

It's also obvious whom Luetkemeyer is looking out for from a summary of his bill posted on the General Assembly's Web site. The bill would also create a Mandated Health Benefit Review Commission, that would "review all health insurance coverage mandates currently required by law and any mandates offered by legislators in the future." Additionally, any bill "containing a health insurance coverage mandate must be evaluated by the commission before the law can be enacted."

Health insurance companies and businesses right now can only offer minimum health insurance plans to those who don't have any coverage. The proposal would change that portion of the law so businesses could go from more comprehensive plans to a minimum plan.

Saying OK to removing a minimum amount of health coverage workers have come to depend on is a sure way for the Show-Me State to wind up in the health care basement.