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McCaskill Will Decline Federal Subsidy For Her Health Care Coverage

(via Flickr/SenatorMcCaskill)
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill says she will buy her health insurance on the federal exchange but will not use the federal employer subsidy.

Updated at 1:43 p.m., Thurs., Dec. 12

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says she’ll go online within a week to sign up for health insurance on the federal exchange – but she won’t be taking the federal subsidy to help cover the cost.

“I’m not going to take the ‘employer contribution,’ “ McCaskill told Missouri reporters during a conference call Wednesday, referring to the federal government’s share of the health insurance premiums for all federal employees.  She added that her staff will take the subsidy, as most other federal employees will do.

“I’m not going to take any subsidy. I’m going to go on the exchange and buy insurance for me and my two daughters that are allowed to insured under my policy,” McCaskill said.

It’s unclear how many members of Missouri’s congressional delegation will follow McCaskill’s no-subsidy approach. Some may accept the subsidy. U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, said through a spokesman that she's declining federal coverage on the exchange and instead continuing to obtain health insurance coverage through her husband.

The spokesman for Wagner, a critic of the Affordable Care Act, added that her staff "signed-up on the ObamaCare exchanges just last week where they spent countless hours trying to navigate a broken website."

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Thursday that he has signed up for insurance through the exchange and he is taking the federal subsidy.

McCaskill said that when she signs up, “we’re going to report to the public on that process."  Her aim is to use her sign-up as a teachable moment to encourage other Missourians to do the same. “They’re being told that it’s something that it isn’t.”

To that end, McCaskill castigated Republicans controlling the Missouri state House and Senate for not setting up a state exchange and for blocking an expansion of Medicaid, as recommended by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"It's nuts. Why would you take Missouri tax dollars and send them to California and New York?" -- U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill

“It’s nuts,’’ McCaskill said. “Why would you take Missouri tax dollars and send them to California and New York?”

She said that Missouri, which now collects more federal money than it sends to Washington in taxes, will soon find itself a “donor state’’ because of legislators’ opposition to the Medicaid expansion and opposition to the health exchanges. The state stood to receive billions of additional federal health care dollars if it expanded Medicaid.

She praised the Missouri Chamber for “speaking up” and calling for expanding Medicaid; the business organization is citing the added costs to businesses and rural hospitals if the state declines to do so.

But the real people who suffer are Missourians who work in low-wage jobs and who would qualify for Medicaid if it were expanded, McCaskill said. She cited the case of  “a woman who works three jobs and doesn’t get health care from any of those jobs, but makes too little to qualify for the exchange.”

If the woman gets sick, she’ll show up in the emergency room seeking treatment, McCaskill continued. “There’s not a ‘magic fairy’ somewhere that absorbs the health-care costs of people who don’t buy insurance. We do.”

“This isn’t about politics, this is about numbers,’’ McCaskill said. “The political point has trumped the services that Missourians need.”

She attacked Republicans in Jefferson City, and in Washington, for “doing everything in their power, not to help Missourians to get insurance but to make this program fail.”

Republican legislative leaders say that the federal government is overreaching when it comes to health care. They have reaffirmed their philosophical opposition to expanding Medicaid and to the federal mandate that will require most Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Missouri Republican officials also contend that the federal government can't afford to pay the added money to the states to cover the Medicaid expansion.

Expanding Medicaid in Missouri would add about 200,000 people to the state’s rolls. Republican leaders in Jefferson City are currently working on proposals to revamp Missouri’s current Medicaid program, with some advocating that the current rolls be trimmed.

McCaskill also touched on several other topics during her conference call:

  • She praised the proposed budget deal crafted by Congress’ two budget chiefs --  U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.  While McCaskill emphasized that she didn’t like all of the deal’s provisions, she added, “That’s because it’s a compromise.”
  • She lamented the U.S. House’s failure to pass a farm bill this year, after the Senate passed bipartisan measures the last two years. McCaskill said House leaders indicated a vote may be taken in January. Lack of action hurts Missouri farmers and will lead to higher food prices, she said.
  •  She lauded the provisions in the defense appropriations bill to curb sexual harassment in the military while aiding victims who report the assaults. “I am over the top over the reforms contained in the bill,’’ said McCaskill, a leader in the effort.  She said the changes “will make the U.S. military the most victim-friendly organization in the world.”
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.