New year, new health care ideas

Monday, December 31, 2007

The rising cost of health insurance hits home with businesses and families this time every year because many plans have a Jan. 1 renewal date. I'll be looking in depth at what's happening in the market over the coming days and will report back later on what I find.

But those cost increases, which have been averaging 10 percent or more each year in the past several years after a few years of relative calm in the market during the late 1990s, also become fodder for politicians. The Missouri legislature returns to work Jan. 9 and so far only two bills have been filed to provide some measure of help with those costs.

One idea, filed by Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, would allow companies employing 50 or fewer people to buy coverage through the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan. The consolidated plan was set up in the 1990s to create a buying pool of state and local governments to purchase health insurance.

And Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, is proposing a bill providing a tax deduction for the costs of health insurance provided to employees by companies with 50 or fewer workers.

But other ideas being pushed by various lawmakers seem more likely to increase the costs of providing insurance. The main way they would do so is by requiring insurance carriers to offer new benefits that are currently voluntary.

Those ideas, in bills already filed, include:

* A proposal from Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, to require coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility. The proposal would cover treatments using fertility drugs and up to four attempts at in vitro fertilization.

* A proposal from Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis County, to require coverage for the treatment of morbid obesity.

* A proposal from Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, to require insurance companies to cover the cost of computerized prosthetic devices.

It's likely, judging from my experience as a legislative reporter, that the insurance company lobbyists will oppose the measures requiring specific new coverage and the proposal allowing small businesses to buy into the state's health insurance plan.

* Restaurant staying put: Problems with converting a proposed location at 727 Broadway for restaurant use means the Lewis & Clark Cafe will remain at 31 N. Main St. for the time being, owner Sam Alsmadi said Friday.

Alsmadi had told me about two weeks ago that he would close the restaurant this week and re-open Feb. 1 at the new location. Instead, he's remaining open and looking over his options.

"It is a no-go," he said. "It is a lot of work, and the city may not approve it."

So, for now, Alsmadi's Middle Eastern cuisine and hookah pipes will be available during his regular business hours.

Alsmadi said he's negotiating with another building owner for a new location because he still wants to expand his menu offerings. Alsmadi said he'll keep me informed when a deal is final.

* Restaurant remodel: Taco John's, 111 N. Kingshighway, is getting a facelift.

The makeover is part of a national effort to update the company's more than 400 locations nationwide. The Cape Girardeau location, a company-owned and operated restaurant, will remain open during the renovation, said Ryan Voszler, store manager.

"We are basically gutting the entire dining room for remodeling and redoing the outside of the building," Voszler said.

The new look will include a rock face for the outside of the building and a reworking of the color scheme in reds and grays, he said. The menu boards will be updated, but the offerings won't change, Voszler said.

"It is supposed to catch your eye," he said. "A lot of buildings have updated themselves already in the vicinity and ours kind of disappeared into the background."

* New shop building: The Delta Cos., operators of Delta Asphalt Inc. at 1200 Marquette Drive, is constructing a new 7,340-square-foot shop building. Glenn Graham, a regional manager, said the company is replacing the existing shop to do a better job of "keeping the equipment moving."

* Sayonara, River Nick's: The Arts Council of Southeast Missouri is apparently moving into River Nick's, the restaurant and bar at 1 N. Main St. that spans the entire block between Spanish Street and Main Street along Independence Street. River Nick's had recently cut back its weekday hours, and there is a sign on the door announcing it is closed and that the arts council will be moving in.

I couldn't reach arts council director Delilah Tayloe or River Nick's owner Guy Tomasino last week. Look for more on this in the blogs this week and full details next week either here or in SE Live, our arts and entertainment weekly.

Rudi Keller is the business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at or call 335-6611, extension 126

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