Jones joins Lembke in opposing state action on health insurance exchanges
House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, likely to be the next House speaker, announced today that he's joining Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, in introducing a resolution "preventing the governor from assembling a governmental health insurance exchange without involvement of the Missouri General Assembly."
It's unclear when their resolution would be introduced because the General Assembly -- which technically still is in special session -- has not gathered in a week. The special session expires in early November, which then would require the resolution to wait until legislators convene during the next regular session, which begins in January.
Jones (far right) and Lembke are pressing for the resolution in the wake of a dispute earlier this month when members of the Missouri Health Insurance Pool, a volunteer group overseen by the state Department of Insurance, was considering technical issues relating to the creation of a state health-insurance exchange so that Missourians by 2014 could purchase their insurance from various competing private insurers.
(Click here for the Beacon's earlier story on the controversy.)
The health-insurance exchange is mandated by the federal health-care law that has been gradually going into effect since early 2010. Jones and Lembke are among the outspoken Republican critics seeking to block the federal actions, which also would require that most Missourians purchase health insurance or face tax penalties.
The pool board had planned to approve receiving $21 million in federal money to help set up an exchange, which is to be in place by 2013. The board held off when Lembke and other GOP senators showed up, asserting that they believed Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, was going to put the state exchange in place without legislative approval. Nixon has said that's not the case.
Jones and Lembke said they are proposing the resolution because the pool board's legal counsel has said it has the legal authority to accept federal money and take preliminary steps to set up the exchange.
John Huff, head of the state Department of Insurance, said the panel is simply taking the steps to comply with the federal government's 2013 deadline, and that final action will be up to the General Assembly.
Jones, who previously supported setting up a state exchange, is now critical of the idea. He says any such exchange might better be set up by private industry. Under the federal law, the federal government will set up an exchange if the state fails to do so.
"This action by the governor ignored both the will of the people and the constitutional role of the legislature," Jones said. "This was an attempt to open the door for federal health care by either rule or executive order and is an overreaching and improper use of executive power."
Both lawmakers cite the strong statewide passage of Proposition C, in August 2010, which seeks to exempt Missouri from implementing the federal mandates, including the requirement that most people purchase health insurance by 2014.
The passage of Proposition C, said Jones, should be seen as "a clear message to Washington, D.C." that Missourians "want the government out of their health-care decisions."
Lembke's resolution "would require the Missouri Health Insurance Pool (MHIP) to follow recommendations made by the Senate Interim Committee on Health Insurance Exchanges."
That committee has been holding hearings around the state, although it has yet to hold one in the St. Louis area.
Contact Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies.