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With U.S. House vote looming, Blunt cites health care change that he'd support

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 3, 2009 - After months of attacking the Democratic health care proposals, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, now has outlined the types of changes tha he would support in the nation's health care system.

In fact, Blunt ;launched on Monday his plan to daily spotlight over the next two weeks a different health care proposal that he supports.

Blunt, by the way, has national status in the health care fight because he is the chairman of the congressional Republican Health Care Solutions Group. After declaring months ago that the GOP would offer alternatives, Blunt and other House Republicans have primarily cast the spotlight on what they see as wrong with the Democratic proposals.

But that's apparently changing this week.

“One of the Democrats’ rhetorical tricks in this debate over health care has been to argue that we can either do what the White House wants, or we can do nothing,” Blunt said Monday in a statement. “These aren’t the only two choices.”

Democrats have countered by attacking his timing, since the Democratic-controlled House is expected to soon cast floor votes on proposed health care changes. The Missouri Democratic Party also calls the GOP alternative proposals "the wrong prescriptio"' for the nation's health care ills. 

UPDATE: Among other things, Democrats noted Tuesday that none of the Republican proposals backed by Blunt do anything about barring insurance companies from refusing to cover "pre-existing conditions,'' one of the issues that many in both parties have claimed they hope to address.

Blunt's first highlighted proposal is HR 2607, called the Small Business Healthcare Fairness Act, and sponsored by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. Johnson's bill is similar to one long championed by former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo.

Said Blunt: "Johnson’s bill expands access to health care coverage by creating Small Business Health Plans, which allow small businesses to band together to purchase coverage for their employees at a lower cost."

(Such congressional proposals have stalled over the years because states, not the federal government, regulate how insurance companies operate and what benefits they may offer. For small businesses, or any consortium to operate across state lines, the GOP proposals would curb or do away with the state control.)

Here are eight other health care bills backed by Blunt, and his staff's explanation of each one:

-- "H.R. 3218: Improving Health Care for All Americans Act would provide tax equity to individuals buying health insurance. It would also create expanded options for the purchase of low-cost health care from new pooling mechanisms."

--  "H.R. 3821: Improved Employee Access to Health Insurance Act would prohibit states from enacting laws which keep employers from ‘auto-enrolling’ employees in currently offered health benefit plans, provided the employee has the option to opt out with no penalty. Research suggests that auto‐enrollment mechanisms, by overcoming inertia and complexity, could increase coverage levels dramatically. In contrast to a federal mandate that all Americans must purchase insurance or face fines, the approach taken in this bill would protect individuals’ ability to make their own health care decisions."

--  "H.R. 3822: Improved Access to Employer Financed Health Insurance Act  would allow employers who do not offer insurance to provide tax-free defined contributions to workers’ individually purchased insurance policies. Further, it would reform existing rules governing insurance markets that make it difficult for employers to help their workers buy health insurance on the individual market."

--  "H.R. 3823: Medicaid and SCHIP Beneficiary Choice Improvement Act would provide all Americans on Medicaid and SCHIP the ability to use premium assistance to purchase private insurance instead of participating in the government-run option."--  "H.R. 3824: Expanded Health Insurance Options Act would authorize states to form regional compacts that will govern the sale of health insurance, which will increase the size of insurance pool and reduce premiums by spreading risk among a larger number of participants."

--  "H.R. 3887:  Health Insurance Access for Young Workers and College Students Act would require that insurance companies continue to cover dependents up to age 25. In the age group 19-24, 30 percent are uninsured (about 7.3 million) and this bill will target that key population"

--  "H.R. 1086: HEALTH Act – this medical liability reform bill utilizes caps to help bring down costs.  This bill will prevent double recoveries and limits the number of years plaintiffs can file suit."

--  "H.R. 3002: Patients Act would protect patients by prohibiting the use of data obtained from comparative effectiveness research to deny coverage of items or services under Federal Health Care programs.; This basically prevents the rationing of care."


State Democratic Party spokesman Ryan Hobart asserted that the nine bills "would increase premiums, undermine employer provided health care, and allow insurance companies to continue denying coverage to Missouri families.

"According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a non-partisan organization, one of the proposals in the package [H.R. 2607] would increase premiums for 80 percent of small businesses," Hobart said.

Added state party executive director Brian Zuzenak: "The sickening truth is that this alternative Republican plan will push more Missourians off health care.”

The only announced Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate next year -- Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan -- has indicated general support for many of the Democratic health care proposals floating around Congress.

The state Democratic Party hinted at one of its likely attacks against Blunt next year, should he end up as the GOP nominee. Among other things, the party asserted that Blunt's 12-year record in Congress includes "cuts in Medicare, which nearly a million Missourians rely on..."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.