Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and other top Republican legislative leaders filed a lawsuit Tuesday 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 health care act?"
Republicans said the 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.
Kinder, who traveled to Cape Girardeau, Springfield, Joplin, Jefferson City and St. Louis, said nothing about Carnahan's summary was neutral or impartial.
"The secretary of state has the responsibility to write a ballot summary that fairly describes the issues for voters to review in the voting booth," Kinder said. "Instead of fair and impartial language, our secretary of state has written ballot language that loads the dice, stacks the deck against this measure."
The lawsuit suggested four alternative summaries. 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?"
Carnahan's office defended its summary and criticized the first suggestion.
"We understand it's election season and some people will do anything to get in the news, but it's hard to take Lt. Gov. Kinder seriously when this is what he calls fair ballot language," Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart said. "It's our obligation to make sure voters have a fair, accurate summary of what they're voting on and our summary provides that."
Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, House Speaker Steven Tilley and House Majority Leader Tim Jones joined the legal challenge. Kinder said he will raise private funds to pay for the case and that his campaign funded the fly-around to the various cities in the state.
Online court records show the lawsuit was assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce.
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 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.