Program to provide health insurance for low-income Missourians

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- Gov. Matt Blunt said the number of uninsured Missourians could be reduced by nearly one-third under a plan he outlined Tuesday to provide government-subsidized health care to lower-income families.

The Republican, speaking at a St. Louis health center, said the "Insure Missouri" plan could provide affordable health insurance to nearly 200,000 Missourians. Democrats immediately attacked the plan as an inadequate effort to cut the ranks of uninsured in the state.

The new program will be phased in over a 15-month period. Eventually, Blunt said, it will provide health-care coverage for Missouri families who earn up to 185 percent of the poverty level -- or $38,203 for a family of four.

Blunt said Insure Missouri will be available to working parents and caregivers with children who live at or below the poverty level -- $20,650 for a family of four -- starting early next year, to working adults who are not Medicare-eligible starting next summer and to small business owners and employees after that.

During fiscal year 2009, the insurance program will cost $46.8 million, according to the Department of Social Services.

Participants will contribute an amount based on their income. Blunt's office said a family of four making $17,500 annually would pay no premiums and would make co-payments of up to $3 per visit. A family of four making $35,000 would have payments of no more than $145 per month.

Democrats were quick to criticize the plan, which a party spokesman called a "half measure."

"This is an admission by Gov. Blunt that his Medicaid cuts caused a health-care crisis in Missouri," Democratic spokesman Jack Cardetti said in a statement, referring to Blunt's 2005 budget cuts that pushed about 100,000 people off state Medicaid rolls.

In August, figures from the U.S. Census showed that the number of Missourians without health insurance jumped 16 percent -- three times the national average -- rising by 104,000 residents to a total of 772,000. The jump was expected after those more than 100,000 Medicaid recipients were dropped in 2005.

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