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Small-business health coverage tops agenda

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by Steven Diegel

SBJ Contributing Writer

Several key health care issues under review by the Missouri state legislature were discussed at the recent March Health Care Forum, presented by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Area legislators addressed a number of items at the forum, including one measure which could provide increased health care coverage opportunities for small businesses.

"The one that probably got the most attention at the meeting was House Bill 1412," said Brad Bodenhausen, of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. "It deals with small business health care insurance and the state's consolidated health care plan."

The proposal would allow small businesses having 50 or fewer employees to take part in the Missouri Consolidated Health Plan, the plan now providing coverage to state and local government employees.

By participating in a larger pool, officials hope small businesses will receive more affordable insurance coverage a benefit to employer and employee alike.

"House Bill 1412 was

created in response to small-business situations," according to Rep. Roy Holand (R-135). "Currently, providing health care insurance for employees is voluntary, but to have good employees you have to offer good benefits."

Holand said a number of issues are still under consideration, such as the exact criteria used to form insurance pools, how insurance providers will bid to provide coverage on the pools, and whether to adjust the interval between bids from three years to a shorter time period.

Opponents of the measure fear it will cause premiums to rise for those already covered, and they are seeking alternative measures to avoid that possibility. Holand expects a number of adjustments will be made in the Senate before a final version is agreed upon.

"It is a very complex issue, and one

that is still under review," Bodenhausen said.

Several other measures are also under review by the legislature, including Senate Bill 632, which could improve health care coverage for children throughout the state.

"This is a proposal that came about as a result of federal legislation," said Sen. Roseann Bentley (R-30). "It would provide for poor children to receive health care coverage."

Specifics of the bill are still being worked out, according to Bentley.

As it currently stands, the measure would provide basic medical coverage for children in families with an income up to 300 percent above the poverty line an income level typical of a family of three with an estimated yearly income of $39,000.

Yet in spite of an estimated $51 million from the federal government to help finance the measure, many legislators feel the proposed level to be entirely too generous and to have too great a price tag for the state.

Many are trying to adjust it downward to focus on those truly in need.

"Most of us felt that was way too generous," Bentley said. "We are trying to reduce that to 200 percent for eligibility, which is a lot more reasonable."

Bentley said the measure has already passed the Senate, and is currently being reviewed by the House.

The state is also considering a bill, Senate Bill 521, which would permit emergency medical units throughout the state to use portable defibrilators at accident scenes. Officials hope the move will build on the success units in Greene County have experienced after a trial measure was approved several years ago.

"From what we have heard from those who have worked on it in Greene County, it has become very successful," Bentley said. "Now we want to make this available to (medical units) statewide."

The defibrilator itself is simple to use, complete with audio instructions to guide even the most inexperienced users safely through the process.

"There are audio instructions for the people who use it, so it is very clear on what you are supposed to do," Bentley said.

This measure, like HB 1412, has already been passed by the Senate and is awaiting approval from the House.

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