JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP)—Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and other top Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday they were filing a lawsuit accusing the Secretary of State’s office of writing a health-care measure ballot summary that is “blatantly false, deceptive and intended to mislead the people.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved a statewide ballot measure for November that would ask voters whether Missouri officials should be barred from creating a health insurance exchange without approval from voters or the Legislature. It also would prohibit state departments from taking federal money to prepare for the online marketplace that would allow consumers to shop for and compare health insurance plans. The federal health-care law requires states to create a health insurance exchange by 2014 or have one operated for them by the federal government.
Lawmakers did not write their own ballot summary, so the responsibility fell to Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. She approved one July 3.
Carnahan’s summary states: “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 the health-care act?"
Republicans said that wording is argumentative, rather than informative, and wrongly implies Missouri’s proposal would deny access to affordable health-care plans. Instead, they contend the ballot measure would allow Missourians to decide whether the state will adopt a health insurance exchange through a public vote or with approval from elected lawmakers.
The Secretary of State’s office defended its ballot summary.
“Obviously, some candidates see this as good political theatre during an election year, but we maintain that this is a fair and sufficient summary of the ballot measure,” Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart said. “Ultimately, we feel confident that it will hold up in court.”
The lawsuit was being filed in the state Capitol’s home of Cole County by Kinder, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, House Speaker Steven Tilley and House Majority Leader Tim Jones. Kinder was traveling the state Tuesday and holding news conferences about the lawsuit in Cape Girardeau, Springfield, Joplin, Jefferson City and St. Louis.
Republicans suggest four alternative ballot summaries for the measure in their lawsuit. One option would state: “Shall Missouri law be amended to prohibit the Governor and or any unelected state bureaucrat from implementing provisions of the federal health-care law unless authorized by a vote of the people or by the legislature?”
Another would say: “Shall Missouri law be amended to prohibit the Governor or any state agency, from establishing or operating state based health insurance exchanges unless authorized by a vote of the people or by the legislature?”
The health insurance ballot summary is the most recent example of the political wrangling in Missouri over the federal health-care law. In August 2010, Missouri became the first to contradict the federal law through a referendum when 71 percent of voters approved a proposition barring the government from requiring people to have health insurance.
During the past week, several Republican candidates have added their own critiques of the ballot summary. During a Tuesday morning news conference outside the state Capitol, GOP Secretary of State candidate Shane Schoeller and attorney general hopeful Ed Martin called for the creation of an interim House committee to review state election law and examine ways to develop fairer ballot summaries. The candidates also were traveling to Springfield and St. Louis on Tuesday.
The Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance, which supports the federal health-care law, meanwhile complained Carnahan’s summary does not mention the ballot measure would allow lawsuits against the state and local governments and expose them to possible legal expenses.