Protesters dispute cuts to Medicaid

Thursday, March 31, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:06 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — One e-mail changed Barbara French’s whole day.

When French, 67, of Edgar Springs, received an alert from a liberal think tank Wednesday morning that Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed cuts to Medicaid would come up in a House committee that night, she sprang into action.

“I had to immediately get into my car and get there,” said French, a mother to four mentally ill children.

French was one of dozens of protesters who filled a Capitol hearing room to capacity Wednesday evening for a meeting that lasted well into the night. On the table before the House Special Committee on General Laws was a bill backed by Blunt that would slash Missouri’s Medicaid program. If the bill is approved by the committee, it will go before the House for approval. No vote had been taken at press time.

Medicaid is a joint program between the federal and state government that provides health care for the poor, elderly and disabled. It covers nearly a million Missourians and accounts for more than a quarter of the state’s expenses.

The bill, SB 539, is a companion to Blunt’s proposed budget. The governor’s plan would remove an estimated 100,000 Missourians from Medicaid rolls.

“What we are doing will not be politically popular,” said Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caufield, the bill’s sponsor. “Our Medicaid system cannot be fixed by new funding or one-time fixes.”

Besides scaling back a number of services, the law would eliminate the entire Medicaid program in 2008. A commission of legislators would be charged with developing recommendations for alternatives. The General Assembly would then have to come up with a replacement system before the old one died out.

“There’s a difference between overhaul and eliminating 100,000 people,” said Paul Woody, spokesman for the House Democrats. “We do not believe that’s how you reform a system.”

The measure is designed to reduce Medicaid spending by:

- Knocking down the eligibility line. Only singles who earn less than 74 percent of the poverty level and couples who earn less than 82 percent would qualify.

- Ending the requirement that the state pay for “optional” services like wheelchairs, prosthetics, dental work and eye care. They could still be funded through appropriations, but there would be no guarantees.

- Eliminating the Ticket to Work program which covers 9,529 people who earn their benefits by working part time.

- Cutting subsidies to children of adoptive parents who make more than 200 percent of the poverty level.

- Ordering an annual audit of the eligibility of all recipients, who would be required to provide proof of income or risk losing coverage.

The bill cleared a filibuster by Senate Democrats two weeks ago. It must make it through the House committee process and win a majority on the lower chamber’s floor before it can be sent to the governor’s desk.

Medicaid’s fate will not be decided until the budget is done. Under state law, expenses must be finalized by the end of the legislative session on May 6.

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