Missouri bill would cut required insurance coverage

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Insurers would no longer be required to cover some services that currently must be provided by minimal health insurance plans, such as mammograms and hospital stays after giving birth, under legislation being considered by a House committee.

Supporters of the bill say it was designed to keep people covered with at least a "bare bones" health insurance policy as insurance premiums escalate. Critics say the measure is "anti-family" and reverses 14 years of work requiring basic health insurance coverage to pay for cancer screenings and other services.

If it becomes law, the legislation would give employers the chance to offer the cheaper coverage in place of existing health insurance plans, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday. Currently, the low-budget plans may be marketed only to those who have no health insurance or may soon be losing it.

The House Financial Services Committee heard, but did not vote, Tuesday on the bill offered by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth. A similar measure has cleared a Senate committee and awaits action by the full Senate.

The legislation eliminates benefits that must be included in low-budget "limited mandate insurance policies," which apply to individuals, families and groups sponsored by an employer of 50 or fewer people.

Since 1990, the law has required that such policies include nine mandated coverage areas such as mammograms, child immunizations, maternity stays in the hospital, tests for newborn infants and screenings for prostate and colon cancer.

Luetkemeyer said the mandates had raised the costs of insurance premiums by between 18 percent and 28 percent.

"That's a huge issue if you are an employer," Luetkemeyer said. "This is for smaller companies. Thirty-eight percent of the people are covered this way. Small businesses carry the brunt of these costs. This provides an alternative to having to go without insurance."

But state Insurance Department officials fear that employers faced with rising insurance costs may substitute the cheaper policies for existing coverage.

"It is not unreasonable to assume that, someday, only limited mandate health insurance policies will be available to individuals and small employers," Insurance Department Director Scott Lakin said in a letter to Luetkemeyer.

Rep. Cathy Jolly, D-Kansas City, a committee member, said the bill was "anti-family" and focused mostly on services for women and children.

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Insurance bills are HB1278 and SB805.

On the Net:

Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

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