In protest, lawmaker cancels his insurance
State budget cuts anger Callahan
By STEVE KRASKE The Kansas City Star
When lawmakers in Jefferson City decided to drop health coverage for 90,000 poor people, state Sen. Victor Callahan decided there was only one thing to do.
Drop his own.
Last week, in an unusual protest for an elected official, Callahan filled out a form to voluntarily drop his coverage. He has no other coverage.
Callahan, 39 and single without children, has vowed that he will not resume his coverage until those 90,000 Missourians have their coverage restored.
He knows that could be years.
"I just feel a moral responsibility," said Callahan, an Independence Democrat. "This is my view of being part of public life. We're all in this together. We go up or down together."
It's a risk, he admits. "But it's not as risky as people on Medicaid who have an existing health-care problem."
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Politicians have been known to deny themselves pay raises or increases in their state-funded pensions if they disagreed with those moves. Some regularly refuse campaign donations from political action committees.
But dropping a benefit as potentially significant as health coverage falls into a different category. Callahan says some people have called him nuts.
"They have said, `Do you know the risk you're taking?' " he said in an interview Tuesday.
Republicans had a different description of Callahan's action.
"It's a stunt," said John Hancock, a consultant to the Missouri Republican Party. "He's not solving the problem."
Advocates for the poor were only slightly more charitable.
"As a symbolic gesture, it's fine. But of course, symbolism doesn't go far enough," said Janice Ellis, president of the Partnership for Children, a Kansas City-based advocacy group.
Amy Blouin, executive director of the Missouri Budget Project, a nonprofit think tank in St. Louis, gave Callahan credit for helping residents understand exactly what the General Assembly has done.
"Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to dramatically help anyone to become insured this year," Blouin said.
Callahan, who formerly served on the Jackson County Legislature, bristled at the suggestion that his move was a stunt. "Clearly it's not," he said. "A stunt doesn't have any consequences. I could have some serious consequences with this action. That's why it's a serious act."
Callahan said he doesn't have any serious health problems, although he's fought to reduce his weight over the years. He smokes occasionally.
"Obviously I'm trying to give that up," he said.
During his years on the Jackson County Legislature, Callahan was known as something of a political brawler. His ongoing disagreements with county Executive Katheryn Shields were the source of regular headlines.
This year, Callahan's aggressive ways have taken on a more partisan tone. One week in March during floor debate over workers' compensation legislation, he regularly referred to Gov. Matt Blunt as "his majesty" and "his excellency."
In dropping his health coverage, Callahan went after Blunt, saying he too should drop his health coverage.
"To do otherwise would be hypocritical, arrogant and a demonstration of callous indifference to the plight of the elderly and disadvantaged children," Callahan said.
In response, Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson sharply criticized Callahan.
"Only a big-government liberal like Victor Callahan would think that social welfare programs that cover nearly 1 million Missourians out of 5 million isn't generous," Jackson said. "This attack on the governor is merely the latest attempt by the Democratic political machine to mask the fact they have no new ideas except raising taxes to addresses our state's challenges."
Aww.. Missouri, where it's A-OK to drop health insurance for thousands of people, and if you dare protest against it, you're a "Big-Government Liberal" (good thing they made it specific, since i'm pretty sure Callahan doesn't qualify as a "Liberal" in general)
Good Ol' Baby Blunt, the Butcher, always cutting away..
Kudos to Victor Callahan. He's certainly done a lot more than Matt Blunt on this issue.
(Blunt's plan for Missouri being to "Blame everything wrong on the Democrats")