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a speech in Congress by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), on

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Full Text Below, adapted from the Congressional Record.

Madam President, as we continue our debate about health care reform, I would like to recognize an organization in Missouri that has been a leader in innovation in driving down the healthcare costs for manufacturers and their employees. The Missouri Association of Manufacturers and their CEO, Rita Needham, have been at the forefront of the debate in my State. She is committed to new strategies to provide affordable health care through consortiums of manufacturers that employ more than 2,100 people.

As an educator, human resource manager and administrator, Rita Needham joined the Southwest Area Missouri Association, SAMA, in 1999 as community affairs director. SAMA reached out to support manufacturers in the Springfield, MO area. Needham was elevated to executive director 2 years later and created a health care consortium which provided affordable health care coverage for manufacturers.

Rita was the driving force in obtaining a two-year waiver from the Missouri Department of Insurance to enable companies of all sizes to join together in a pilot program to purchase group health insurance. Before the consortium was created, the initial 32 companies who joined the SAMA I Consortium had to buy their health insurance individually, but, under the consortium, they were rated as one policy holder therefore achieving significant savings. Six smaller companies who were part of the consortium were able to access affordable health care for the first time. The consortium members were able to achieve long term rate stability, create large group buying power and reduce claim risk in response to their biggest concern--the rising costs of health care.

In 2006, Rita led SAMA's efforts to persuade the Missouri General Assembly to pass House bill 1827, landmark legislation known as the SAMA bill, which allowed manufacturers of all sizes the option of purchasing a group health plan under the consortium.

In 2010, the Southwest Area Manufacturers Association became the Missouri Association of Manufacturers, MAM, with 170 member companies across the State representing 14,500 employees. Today, MAM is a strong voice for manufacturing with free market positions on trade, regulation, tax and energy policy, education, health care and the environment.

Rita is planning to retire this year, but throughout her career she has been a thoughtful, dedicated leader for Missouri manufacturers. I have always relied on her expertise and common sense to better understand how Federal policy impacts health costs for manufacturers.

I wish Rita and her husband Jim a wonderful retirement. There is no doubt that Rita's advocacy and smart leadership have improved the business environment in Missouri.