© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

McCaskill, Carnahan hit the road to sell health care, but are the voters buying?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 30, 2010 - After months of taking hits for their support of the Democratic effort to revamp the nation's health-care system, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan now have gone on the road to sell the final product.

"There's a lot of information out there about the health-care bill,'' said McCaskill, D-Mo., in a meeting this morning with some local small-business owners at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "Some of it is accurate. A lot of it is not."

Said Carnahan, D-St. Louis, at a news conference this afternoon with supportive health-care providers and families at a south side health center: "This bill was far from perfect, but it is such an important step."

The aim of both Democrats was to highlight positive aspects of the package of health-care measures approved by Congress, with the last signed into law today by President Barack Obama. Among other things, both emphasized the Congressional Budget Office's predictions of federal health-care savings over the next decade.

At Carnahan's event, the congressman featured people like Shannon McGinn, a parent who cited the provisions that allow children to remain on their parents' health-care plan until they are 26, and prevent insurers from using pre-existing conditions of children under 18 to avoid paying benefits.

McGinn said the measures will help her 16-year-old daughter who now can't get coverage for some longstanding health issues, and her college-age daughter who now has no insurance.

McCaskill, meanwhile, highlighted the benefits for small businesses, especially those with fewer than 25 employees, who will receive new tax breaks if they offer health insurance to their workers.

Although several small-business owners praised the senator, lawyer Jalesia McQueen Gadberry told McCaskill that her corporate clients viewed the health care changes as yet another sign "that government is getting bigger'' and more oppressive.

McCaskill did seek to allay such fears -- to a point. "In the short term, we're going to rein in some of the worst practices of insurance companies,'' she said. "The sky is not going to fall. No one is going to ration your health care."

But at the same time, McCaskill predicted that "insurance premiums will continue to go up for a few years,'' until all the changes go into effect.

McCaskill and Carnahan acknowledged that the health-care critics would continue to be outspoken. And that certainly was the case for the state's top-ranking Republican, U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, and Carnahan GOP rival Ed Martin. 

Bond issued a statement declaring, "This is not the kind of reform the American people wanted from Congress. Republicans will continue to stand on principle, hold President Obama accountable for his promises, and fight to replace this government takeover of health care with common-sense reforms that lower costs for families, farmers, and small businesses."

Bond said he would have preferred measures that would have curbed malpractice lawsuits, allowed the public to purchase insurance across state lines, and offer the same tax breaks to individuals who purchase insurance as those who get coverage through their employers.

Martin declared that Carnahan and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "are trying to convince hard-working families that the bill just taxes the 'rich' but the reality is it takes aim at small businesses and those who create jobs."

Martin was highlighting the provision that will impose additional Medicare payroll taxes on people who earn $200,000 or more (and couples earning $250,000 or more), including investment income. Martin said the tax hikes will cost jobs.

McCaskill said in an interview that the tax increase will end the current system that allows wealthy people who don't work to avoid paying any Medicare taxes, which previously had not been imposed on investment income.

Carnahan, in particular, has felt the heat from Tea Party activists and other opponents of the health-care changes, who are backing Martin's effort to unseat the congressman in November.

Last week, some opponents posted a coffin outside Carnahan's home as part of a protest dubbed as a prayer vigil. And some national blog sites also have posted video that appeared to show a critic in Washington spitting in the face of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City.

Carnahan said today that he was pleased that "responsible leaders of both parties have condemned some of the extreme rhetoric ... extreme actions."

When asked, Carnahan added, "I am not concerned about my personal safety."

Carnahan said he expected that the signing of the health-care law won't curb the criticism. "I think this will continue to be an issue in the months ahead."

But the congressman added that he hopes, and expects, the public's opinion of the health care changes to improve as they learn more. "Those who want to run a campaign on repealing health care reform won't get very far,'' Carnahan predicted.

To tamp down any tensions, McCaskill has sought to use humor.

Monday night, she was featured on Comedy Central's "Colbert Report," where comedian Stephen Colbert asked McCaskill about the declaration of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh -- a Cape Girardeau native -- that he planned to move to Costa Rica in protest of the health care changes.

McCaskill replied on the show that her only query of Limbaugh was "how ya liking that single-payer health care in Costa Rica?"

McCaskill said Tuesday with a chuckle that her quip had generated no reply from Limbaugh, but tons of Tweets on Twitter.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.