DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- As a Republican senator, Kit Bond voted against the federal health care overhaul. Now lobbying for a prominent business group, Bond is pushing Republican legislators in his home state of Missouri to embrace a key provision of the law by expanding Medicaid eligibility.
Bond said Friday that the potential to reap billions of dollars more in federal funding is simply too important for Missouri to pass up, especially for hospitals that otherwise could get stuck with higher costs for treating the uninsured.
"While I was and still am one of the loudest opponents of Obamacare, I'm getting involved in Medicaid reform now because if our State sits on the sidelines, I'm concerned hospitals in rural and inner city Missouri won't survive," Bond said in an email.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry declined to say how much it is paying Bond's consulting firm. But chamber President Dan Mehan said Bond already has met with Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon about the potential to expand Medicaid eligibility.
"He understands the issues very well, and we're trying to capitalize on his stature, his relationships that he has and his reputation as a one of the best statesmen that this state will ever have," Mehan said.
Bond voted against the federal health care law when Congress passed it four years ago. He said in December 2009 that President Barack Obama's health care plan would fail to lower costs or improve the quality of health care. He also criticized the legislation as being "chock full of political payoffs" for Democratic senators so that the party could obtain the votes necessary to stop a Republican filibuster.
Bond chose not to seek re-election in 2010 after serving in the Senate for 24 years. He previously served as state auditor and two terms as governor.
Bond's consulting firm said he has long supported a strong social safety net and has consistently fought for Missouri to receive a healthy share of federal funding. As a senator, for example, Bond worked to increase the amount of money Missouri's highway department received from federal fuel taxes.
Even with Bond's involvement, Medicaid expansion remains a longshot in Missouri.
Over the past year, Missouri's Republican-led Legislature has repeatedly rejected proposals from Nixon and Democratic lawmakers to extend Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 300,000 additional lower-income adults. States that expand Medicaid eligibility under the terms of Obama's health law can receive enhanced federal Medicaid payments for those new enrollees.
Nixon's administration has said Missouri could get $1.7 billion of federal aid next year if it expands Medicaid.
Mehan said the Chamber of Commerce doesn't support the federal health care law, but nonetheless believes Missouri should expand its Medicaid program because the influx of federal money would help the economy. If Missouri's doesn't expand Medicaid, Mehan said the health care costs of the uninsured will be shifted to those covered through employer-sponsored health insurance plans.
"It's the opportunity to reform the Medicaid system and make it more cost-efficient," Mehan said. "And with regards to attracting that $2 billion into the state of Missouri, we make the business case for that. He can articulate that we've done this in the past with partnerships between the federal government and states. "
Online records of the Missouri Ethics Commission show that Kit Bond Strategies registered as a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce last week. The lobbyists listed include Bond and Jason Van Eaton, the firm's managing partner who was Bond's state director when Bond was a senator.
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