Blunt signs new Medicaid bill

The preventive health care program aims to catch problems early.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:18 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation Monday reshaping Missouri’s Medicaid program to emphasize healthy living and restoring coverage to some of the many thousands who lost it because of budget cuts two years ago.

The Republican governor was promoting aspects of the bill at signing ceremonies around the state, highlighting health care technology improvements, expanded coverage for children and women, and greater coordination of care.

The health care legislation was a priority for Blunt and the Republican-led legislature, which passed it over the objections of some Democrats, who had wanted the bill to reverse all of the 2005 Medicaid cuts.

Although widening coverage somewhat, this year’s legislation focused on changing the way Medicaid services are delivered. Each enrollee in the renamed “MO HealthNet” program is to undergo a health risk assessment to try to catch problems early.

Blunt said the new system would provide a better quality of life and would be more sustainable for taxpayers.

“A lot of people said we need to go back to how we used to do it,” he said. “How we used to do it was bankrupting the state and failing to provide high-quality care, and that’s why we’ve totally changed the system.”

Under the bill, the Department of Social Services is to work with an oversight committee to create health plans with varying levels of coordinated care. By next summer, the department also is to come up with a four-year plan to increase payments for doctors and other Medicaid providers. Certain health care providers could get even more money if they have good patient outcomes.

The bill authorizes adult Medicaid recipients to receive dental and eye care benefits, but lawmakers included no money for the benefits in the budget, meaning they still will not be provided when the law takes effect Aug. 28.

Similarly, there is no money budgeted for the bill’s women’s health initiative.

This year’s budget does include money for several of the bill’s provisions — expanded coverage to several thousand children of lower-income parents; extended coverage for foster children up to age 21 instead of 18; and restored or improved coverage to a few thousand working disabled residents whose benefits were cut in 2005.

Blunt’s opponents’ main contention is that the bill does not restore Medicaid coverage to all who lost it in 2005.

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said the bill amounts to little more than a new name for the program.

“At first glance it may look nice, but close examination exposes it for the false reform it is,” he said.

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