Hundreds rally in Jefferson City against federal health bill

JEFFERSON CITY | A states-rights rally against federal health care legislation drew about 400 people to the Missouri Capitol on today, including dozens of Republican elected officials.

The rally focused primarily on federal proposals that would tax individuals who do not purchase health insurance and penalize businesses that do not offer it to their employees.

"The time is now for Missouri to stand up, to face Washington, D.C., and let our president, our Congress and our Senate know that this state will no longer bow to their unconstitutional mandates," said Joan Langenberg, president of the Missouri Eagle Forum, one of six conservative groups that organized the rally.

Missouri lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would specifically allow people to pay medical bills out of their own pocketbooks instead of through insurance plans. The proposed amendment would bar penalties or fines against those who pay directly for health care and would prohibit laws compelling people or employers to participate in any health care system.

Similar versions of the amendment have been filed in both the Missouri House and Senate and are co-sponsored by a majority of Republicans in the GOP-led legislature. If passed by lawmakers, the measure would appear on the November ballot.

"This is simply a protection of your individual, constitutional right to choose the health care options that work best for you," lead sponsor Sen. Jane Cunningham, a Chesterfield Republican, told rally participants.

About three dozen Republican state lawmakers participated in the rally, as did Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has claimed that the federal health care legislation could be costly to the state because of its proposed expansion of Medicaid coverage.

Top Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C., are trying to reconcile differences between health care overhaul bills passed by the House and Senate.

Both bills would impose a tax penalty on individuals who do not have health insurance coverage, though there are differences in how large that penalty would be and when it would begin. Both versions also would impose financial penalties on employers who do not offer health insurance to their employees, with varying exceptions for smaller businesses.