Getting Past COVID and Protecting Health Insurance Coverage for Missourians
Last weekend, I took a drive over to West Plains to visit the COVID-19 vaccination clinic conducted by the Missouri National Guard in cooperation with local health officials. I’m not eligible to receive the vaccine yet myself so I didn’t get a shot, but I wanted to see how these mass vaccination sites work. I was absolutely astonished by the level of collaboration and how efficiently they moved people through the process.
The Howell County Health Department, the City of West Plains, Ozarks Healthcare and Missouri State University-West Plains joined together with the Guard to administer 2,800 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in a single day. The event was open to area residents in the Phase 1B vaccine group, which includes those over the age of 65 and people with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. It was amazing to see everyone work so well together. Over 130 volunteers lent a hand that day – ranging from firefighters, nursing students and city officials. They picked people up from the parking lot in golf carts and took them right up to the door of the West Plains Civic Center. Once inside, participants received information about the vaccine as they moved quickly through line. After the shot was administered, recipients waited in an observation area for a few minutes to make sure there were no negative reactions before getting back on a golf cart for a ride back to their cars.
I thought the whole thing was phenomenal. I want to thank the governor and the Department of Health and Senior Services for coordinating the clinic, and I especially appreciate all the hard work of everyone locally who made it possible. What a great job they all did. There are more mass vaccination clinics scheduled this weekend in Springfield and Ava. Watching so many of my constituents get inoculated gave me confidence that we’re making progress. I put my trust in God that this terrible pandemic will be behind us soon. I am sincerely thankful for all the hard-working men and women helping to deliver the vaccine.
The big news this week was the Senate’s first-round approval, or “perfection,” of COVID-19 liability protection for small businesses, first responders, health care professionals and certain manufacturers. Senate Bill 51 says that unless a business acted recklessly or exhibited willful misconduct, they can’t be sued if someone contracts COVID-19 at their premises. Likewise, health care providers are shielded from lawsuits by the same “recklessness and willful misconduct” standard. Manufacturers who stepped forward to produce products they don’t normally make (a T-shirt factory that made face masks, for example) are immune from product liability suits, except in extreme cases. An amendment to SB 51 protects religious institutions from pandemic-related lawsuits unless intentional misconduct can be shown.
Initial approval of the COVID-19 liability bill came after 15 hours of debate and deliberation, but we ended up with a good piece of legislation that protects businesses, frontline health care workers and others who made a good faith effort.
This week, I proudly introduced another piece of legislation for consideration. Senate Joint Resolution 26 would amend Missouri’s Constitution to prohibit insurance companies operating in our state from denying coverage, excluding benefits or charging a different premium based on a pre-existing condition. The legislation also ensures dependent children can stay on their parent’s health insurance plans until the age of 26. Both of these protections are currently part of the federal Affordable Care Act, but a case before the U.S. Supreme Court could change that. My legislation provides a safety net for Missourians by enshrining these protections in the state Constitution. Assuming the Legislature approves SJR 26, the people would have the final say when the question appears on the ballot in November 2022.
It was really quite a week. I saw dozens of dedicated Missourians step up to deliver a potentially life-saving vaccine to thousands of their neighbors. I witnessed senators stand on their feet and talk for hours while a difficult and complex legislative compromise was crafted. I can hardly wait to see what next week holds.
It is my honor to serve the residents of Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Texas, Webster and Wright counties in the Missouri Senate, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from friends and family back home. If I can help you in any way, please call my Capitol Office at 573-751-1882, or my District Office at 417-596-9011. You can also visit my webpage at www.senate.mo.gov/mem33, on Facebook: @SenatorKarlaEslinger, or follow me on Twitter: @seneslingermo.