JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Thursday expanding government-funded prenatal health coverage and allowing some newly trained doctors to go to work more quickly in areas of Missouri where there are physician shortages.
The health care provisions are contained in a pair of wide-ranging bills, which also extend the life of a state prescription drug program for seniors.
The new Show-Me Healthy Babies Program will provide insurance for pregnant women who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but don't have affordable private-sector insurance. The program is projected to cover more than 1,800 people annually at an annual cost of $14 million, most of which would come from federal funds.
The program was championed by various anti-abortion groups.
"We want to provide all the help we can to pregnant women to have a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby," said Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri. "We also know that for some women, a lack of insurance could be an incentive for her to seek an abortion."
Missouri's Medicaid program already covers pregnant women with incomes of up to 185 percent of the poverty level, which equates to $21,590 annually for an individual or $29,100 for a couple. Missouri's Children's Health Insurance Program covers children after birth in families earning up to three times the poverty level, which is $47,190 for a family of two or $59,370 for a family of three.
The Show-Me Healthy Babies Program will apply to families earning up to three times the poverty level.
At least 15 other states already have similar prenatal programs, including Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Nixon didn't mention the Show-Me Healthy Babies Program in a news release announcing he had signed the bills, focusing instead on a provision that extends the Missouri Rx prescription drug program for low-income seniors until August 2017. The program was due to expire this August, but its life has regularly been extended by lawmakers.
Under the program, the state pays half of the out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for lower-income people covered through the federal government's Medicare Part D plan.
Nixon raised concerns about another section in the bills, which creates a classification of "assistant physicians" who have graduated from medical school and passed licensing exams but have not yet completed residency training. Assistant physicians who are overseen by doctors will be allowed to provide primary care and prescribe drugs in rural or urban areas that are considered to be medically underserved.
The governor said the new category of doctors would make Missouri unique nationally and should be subject to "comprehensive and rigorous oversight and regulation."
"Ensuring that all Missourians have access to adequate health care is a laudable goal, but it is equally important that such measures do not place citizens' health in jeopardy," Nixon said in a written statement.