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All Eyes on Missouri's Health Care Ballot

August 2, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - When Missourians go to the polls this Tuesday, they will be the first in the country to vote on whether to reject parts of the new federal health care law. Proposition C asks voters if the state should opt out of a provision that requires everyone to purchase health insurance or be assessed a fine.

Supporters of Proposition C believe the federal government has no constitutional authority to impose a national health care system on the states. Ruth Ehresman, director of health and budgetary policy for the Missouri Budget Project, accuses them of trying to use the referendum as a way to wipe out the entire law.

Regardless of the vote outcome, Ehresman says states cannot "opt out" of federal laws.

"Other states certainly have their eyes on Missouri, since we're the first state. But people are wrongly looking at this - at Proposition C - as a vote of confidence in federal health care reform."

Ehresman notes Missourians are already seeing some of the benefits of health care reform through small business tax credits, a high-risk pool for pre-existing conditions, coverage for young adults on their parents' insurance plans and prescription "doughnut hole" gap coverage for Medicare recipients.

She also points out that the referendum will cost the state money at a time when budgets are strained, for a vote that she sees as a distraction from the real issue of making health care more affordable and more readily available.

"We think a much better use of our time and resources would be to look at the potential goods of federal health care reform, make sure that health care reform is implemented in Missouri to maximize those benefits, and then to work to change the parts we think might need changing."

Other states with similar votes set for November include Arizona, Oklahoma and Florida.

Heather Claybrook/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MO