JEFFERSON CITY - Despite a budget shortfall and long debates about how to spend state funds, Missouri legislators voted to continue a program to provide health insurance for children.
The House passed a bill Monday that extends the State Children's Health Insurance Program to July 1, 2007. The program offers health insurance coverage to uninsured children.
"This is one of the best investments that our state can make", said bill sponsor Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis County."77,000 children in our state are benefiting from this program."
Fraser highlighted two major benefits for Missouri children: a higher rate of school attendance and lower rate of visits to emergency rooms.
Fraser cited a study that estimated the minimum cost for emergency room visit at $165. "The state does not pay that much per child in the overall program", she said.
Fraser said a benefited group from the bill would be children with "unusual diseases", such as multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or mental retardation.
"These are children who can't find health insurance any other way", she said.
Although there was some opposition to the program in 1998 when the program started, there has been agreement in the legislature this year to pass the renewal, said Rep. Ted Farnen, D-Mexico.
"A lot more children are now covered by health insurance than before we started this program and I think it is something to be proud of," he said.
Even though the program will cost $13 million, Farnen said, this wasn't the right place to look for cuts."I don't think the way to solve the budget crisis is to throw kids out of this program", he said.
Farnen, in his last term after eight years in the House, pointed out the fact that elections are close and votes against bill like this are politically dangerous. "Who is going to run on a campaign platform of throwing kids of health care insurance?" Farnen said.
Rep. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, voiced opposition to the bill saying it was too broad and provided health insurance to those who could afford it themselves.