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Bond Pushes Medicaid Expansion In Jefferson City

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
Former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R, speaks in support of expanding Medicaid at a Mo. Chamber event in Jefferson City on Feb. 25, 2014.

Former U.S. Sen.Kit Bond paid a visit to Jefferson City Tuesday, hoping to persuade his fellow Republicans in the Missouri House and Senate to expand Medicaid coverage to more people.

Bond told a gathering of Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry members that he doesn't like Obamacare, and he called its rollout a "disaster."  But he also said that accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid could enable Missouri to craft its own health-care solution.

"We need a common sense, Show-Me State solution that reforms Medicaid, takes it away from Obamacare, and gives what the people of Missouri want, (the) kind of health-care system they deserve," Bond said.

Bond listed some of those proposed solutions.  They include providing coverage from the private sector, requiring co-pays and premiums, and encouraging healthy living habits.

"By reforming these (Medicaid) programs, we can incentivize work by helping hard-working families so they don't have to choose between eligibility for their medical treatments and working," Bond said.  "A Missouri solution designed with free market principles can reward the values of hard work, self-sufficiency, and personal responsibility, not punish them, which the current system too often does."

Bond also told Missouri Chamber members that the state should not let its share of federal dollars go to fund health-care coverage in other states.

"Missouri can't afford to leave $2 billion a year on the table," Bond said.  "These dollars are critical to combating the costly Obamacare cuts that are already hitting our health-care providers."

Bond, however, also reiterated the same talking point made by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon when he began touting Medicaid expansion in 2012:  that the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and 90 percent of the cost thereafter.  It's that 10 percent that Missouri would have to pay for, starting in 2017, that Republican leaders in the House and Senate have objected to.  Bond admits that Medicaid expansion, even one with reforms and free-market involvement, is a tough sell.

"Do we have all the votes now? No," Bond told reporters after his Chamber appearance.  "But we've got a significant number (of people) who are working on the process, and I can tell you there are enough of them engaged right now that there will be a significant group (of Republican lawmakers) coming forward."

Bond's proposal is similar to a House bill filed last week by state Rep. Noel Torpey, R-Independence. House Bill 1901 would raise the Medicaid threshold to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, instead of 138 percent as sought by Democrats. Families falling between 100 and 138 percent would be eligible to buy private coverage through the federal health exchange.

However, during a visit to St. Louis in January, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon that the complete federal match would “only be available if a state does choose to come to 133 percent.”

“Any state can expand Medicaid any way it wants in our federal program,” Sebelius said then. “But the 100 percent federal funding, the complete match, is not available to any state unless they come up to 133 percent. So, the traditional match is available. Lots of states have different levels of qualification.”

A similar proposal to Torpey's sponsored by state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, died in the Missouri House last year.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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