JEFFERSON CITY – Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is once again taking his opposition to federal health care law to court, this time with a lawsuit challenging language that will appear on Missouri’s Nov. 7 ballot.
The ballot language –which was crafted by Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan – attempts to summarize a measure passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly that will allow voters to decide whether the governor should be allowed to set up an online marketplace for patients to shop for insurance policies. These so-called “health care exchanges” are a key provision of President Barack Obama's health reform law.
The ballot language asks voters, “Shall Missouri law be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute, initiative or referendum or through an exchange operated by the federal government as required by the federal health care act?”
The language was immediately greeted with outrage from Missouri Republicans. Kinder, who sued the federal government in 2010 claiming the health care reform law was unconstitutional, called Carnahan’s ballot language “extremely biased.”
Thursday afternoon, he announced he was filing a lawsuit challenging the language either Friday or early next week. He is reaching out to legislators to allow them to join his lawsuit.
“In my 19 years in public office, I have seen no ballot language proposed by a secretary of state that even approaches this in its outrageousness,” Kinder said, later adding: “She words it as though the Obama White House had written the language. There is nothing fair or accurate about that ballot summary.”
Kinder said he would attempt to raise private funds to pay for the legal challenge, a tactic he employed in 2010 when he created a nonprofit to pay for his federal lawsuit. Almost all the funding for his federal lawsuit came from Revere America — a Washington, D.C.,-based group that is dedicated to repealing the health care law.
He said he may use the same nonprofit – called Health Care In Action Inc. – to fund his new lawsuit.
Ryan Hobart, Carnahan’s communications director, said Kinder’s lawsuit will not be successful.
“We maintain that our language is a sufficient and fair summary of the ballot measure and are confident it will hold up in court,” he said.
The exchanges are designed to be online marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can compare and buy private insurance plans. The hope is that competition and the free market can help bring down health insurance costs.
States have until 2013 to design the structure of the exchange and the criteria insurance plans must meet to be included. If a state declines to start one, the federal government can step in and do it.
During the 2011 legislative session, the Missouri House unanimously voted to establish a health insurance exchange. But the bill stalled in the Senate.
This year, lawmakers opted to wait on a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the overall health care law. In a 5-4 ruling last week, the law was upheld.
Republican lawmakers said they put the issue on the ballot out of concern that Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration could set up a health exchange on its own over legislative objections. The Missouri House also voted to turn down a $50 million federal grant that would have allowed the state Department of Social Services to upgrade its computer systems, arguing it was a back-door attempt to establish an exchange.
However, Nixon has repeatedly said he would not set up an exchange through executive order.
Not to be outdone, Sen. Brad Lager – who is challenging Kinder in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor – asked Nixon to call a special legislative session so that Missouri can opt-out of the federal health care law.
Kinder called this strategy “wholly irrelevant,” contending that it would only result in political grandstanding during an election year without actually accomplishing anything meaningful.