Senate approves private funding for First Steps

Thursday, April 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:55 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill placing financial responsibility for the First Steps program into the hands of private insurance providers and families won first-round approval in the Senate on Wednesday.

First Steps provides in-home therapy and services to children younger than 3 who have developmental disabilities. The program could lose its state funding to Medicaid and budget cuts that Gov. Matt Blunt has proposed.

The program served 8,041 children in Missouri last year at an estimated cost of $27.2 million.

The legislation would require insurance to pay up to $3,000 a year for the services, with families contributing to the payment of any remaining costs on a sliding scale. That scale could require families to pay anywhere from $5 to $100 per month based on family income. If the services were still not covered, the state would pick up the rest.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, said First Steps is a good program but needs some serious structural changes.

“We need to protect the program to ensure it continues,” Gibbons said. “The governor is in support of this legislation and is ready to shift his position on the program if the changes are made.”

Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, asked for the clause addressing private insurers to be removed, saying it did not evenly spread the burden of cost.

“When you take this bill down to the 40 percent of the people in small business health plans and you make them effectively bear the cost for 100 percent of the kids program, that is not an efficient sharing of risk, that is narrowing sharing down,” Loudon said.

The proposed change to the bill did not pass.

Sen. John Dougherty, D-St. Louis, said the bill didn’t reach far enough into the problem, because not everyone is eligible for the insurance.

“So here we are making some attempt, but we realize half the people in the state are not even going to be impacted,” said Dougherty.

The bill awaits final approval from the Senate, and if it passes, it will be sent to the House floor for further debate.

In other Senate news, just before midnight Tuesday, the Senate gave preliminary approval to the new school funding formula after a day-long debate. The changes affect the way funds are dispersed to public schools.

The Senate gave final passage early Wednesday afternoon to eight other bills. The list included bills that would remove mercury in shots given to pregnant women and children under 3 as well as provide tax credits for those who donate money to live-in rehabilitation institutions.

Attempts to make the North American bullfrog the state amphibian also came closer to law, passing out of the Senate Agricultural committee Wednesday afternoon. The measure awaits debate on the Senate and House floors.

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