JEFFERSON CITY — Once the Silver Haired Legislators were settled in at the Missouri House chambers, results came quickly.
On Friday, the senior advocates came to Jefferson City from all corners of Missouri to discuss a list of priority issues for presentation to the General Assembly. With concerns ranging from meals to Medicare, the seniors wrapped the two-day annual conference with a top-five list of proposals they will push when the next legislative session begins in January.
The Missouri Silver Haired Legislature began in 1972 with a mission to give voice to the senior community. Its 128 representatives — all citizens older than 60 — are elected each May at regional Area Agencies on Aging and at local senior centers.
Each of Missouri’s 10 major regions has three Silver Haired senators and 12 representatives who survey their communities to discern seniors’ problems and to draft legislative proposals to address them during the yearly meeting. The senior legislators also work with Missouri elected officials, enlisting them as advocates and sponsors for bills proposed by the Silver Haired Legislature.
“We find out what our constituents would like to have happen and we work from there,” said Martha Hicks, a Silver Haired representative from central Missouri. “It’s from the grassroots up.”
After new-member induction on Thursday, legislators broke into four committees — Social Services, Consumer Affairs, Judiciary/Taxation and Health — to mull the 21 bills compiled from the year’s work.
Many of this year’s initiatives were failed repeats from previous years, such as increasing funding for home-delivered meals, which was selected as the No. 1 priority proposal during this session and for the past two years.
Transportation is also a prominent concern. In the bill given third priority, the Silver Haired Legislators asked for increased funds for Area Agencies on Aging that provide volunteer drivers for seniors.
“I’m a young elderly, and I need transportation because I can’t drive at night,” said Ollie Stewart of the St. Louis delegation.
“We need better transportation so we can move around in the community,” she added, “so that we can continue to live independently.”
Although most members of the Silver Haired House and Senate agreed on the importance of the issues discussed, debate centered on whether their proposals were too demanding or not demanding enough.
A bill calling for an increase in the assets cap for Medicaid eligibility to $2,500 per person highlighted the hesitation. Citizens with assets of $1,000 or more cannot qualify for Medicaid under Missouri law. Concern about the cap was unanimous, but its solution raised discussion.
“I don’t think it’s feasible to get $2,500 for Medicaid,” said DeForrest Cline, vice president of the Silver Haired Legislature Board and a representative of the Southwest branch. “We’re asking for trouble if we push it,” he added, suggesting a $1,500 cap instead.
Keith Hardin, a representative from Richmond, pushed forward with the bill.
“I do admit that this will cost the state more money, but if you stop to think that everything in our lives has been subject to inflation — this has not been,” he said.
One of the thickest discussions that riled the House and the Senate involved placing a cap on medical-liability awards. Although the bill failed to pass in either body, representatives fired arguments in all directions.
“One cannot really measure and put a value on damage to an individual,” said Silver Haired Sen. Robert Hackley of Republic. “We are looking at a moral issue, and the moral issue is greed.”
“We’re actually driving physicians away,” said John Ogle, also of the Southwest delegation.
New representative Anna Lippert of central Missouri argued that 266 physicians quit their medical practices in Missouri in the past year, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of patients.
“Our physicians cannot pay over $100,000 a year in insurance just to stay in practice,” Lippert said.
Her opponents, however, urged the legislators to put a face on victims of malpractice.
“Think of the person in the hospital who had the wrong leg amputated,” Hardin argued. “These people have every right to have their grievances addressed.”