May 30, 2015

After 6-hour delay Missouri Social Services budget failed, then passed

The proposed budget for the Missouri Department of Social Services was rejected early this morning, before the Senate reversed itself.

Senators Kurt Schaefer (left) and Rob Schaaf (right)  (photos courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senators Kurt Schaefer (left) and Rob Schaaf (right) (photos courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senators who opposed adding some 200,000 Missourians to a managed care system, in which a private company manages health benefits for consumers, held up a vote on the Social Services Department’s budget for six hours. When a vote finally came the bill failed, but on a second vote it got the 18 needed to pass.

Senator Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) led the effort against the managed care expansion, calling it a significant shift in policy that should not be made in the state’s budget.

“We’re talking about putting 200,000 Missourians on managed care without even so much as a hearing. Not even a hearing, where we could vet this. Where we could talk about it,” said Schaaf. “We’re not even allowed to have the public come and comment.”

Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer says the idea has had plenty of debate.

“The Senator from St. Francois [County] chaired a committee that met over the summer. They had multiple hearings all over the state. They heard from a lot of witnesses. It was their number one recommendation. The House has had hearings on this,” said Schaefer. “To say that there’s been no hearings on this is ridiculous.”

The two sides disagree on whether managed care is cost-effective and better for patients.

That bill and the other 12 bills that make up the proposed state budget now faces another round of debate in a House-Senate conference committee.

Schaefer says he intends to defend the proposal in that conference.

“I’m adamant in the fact that we’re going to rein in welfare growth,” Schaefer said. He said the proposed budget passed by the Senate this morning would provide the Department of Social Services more than it spent last year, “but we’re going to rein in that growth. I’m adamant on that and pushed forward with it and I’m glad that I had the support from the members that I did.”

Missouri Senate passes prescription drug monitoring program

A proposal that has been blocked in the Missouri Senate repeatedly in recent years has advanced.  The Senate has passed a bill that would establish a state prescription drug monitoring program, but some lawmakers still have concerns.

Senator David Sater  (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

Senator David Sater (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

Senator David Sater’s bill would track prescriptions and sales of highly addictive medications such as painkillers.  Similar bills in the past filed by Sater have been held up because of privacy concerns about the data collected, but this year Sater included measures meant to improve protections and penalties for misuse.

“I think we have probably the most secure, the most effective [prescription drug monitoring program] bill in the United States,” said Sater.

Missouri is the only state in the country without a prescription drug monitoring program.

Senator Ed Emery said he appreciates the work done to make this bill better than other states’, but he still opposes it.

Senator Ed Emery  (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

Senator Ed Emery (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

“I personally didn’t take an oath to those other states’ laws, or to making better laws than those states.  I took an oath to the constitution.  I still believe this is an unconstitutional provision,” said Emery.  “Regardless of the work that’s been done to try to avoid the pitfalls of other states, I still believe that we as a body should reject it.”

Senator Will Kraus is also concerned about privacy issues with the data collected.

“We’re taking personal information from individuals that have done nothing wrong and putting it into a government database, and I for one just don’t believe that’s what we should be doing,” said Kraus.  “I think that whenever you take an innocent person’s information and put it in a database that takes away their liberty that takes away their freedoms.”

Senator Will Kraus (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

Senator Will Kraus (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

Sater said prescription drug abuse amongst teens is on the rise.

“It a major problem for the abusers and also for our kids,” said Sater.  “We have a growing problem with opiate abuse in our teenage population also.”

The bill was passed 24-10 and now goes to the House, which passed its own version of a prescription drug monitoring program earlier this year.  The two chambers will now to try to compromise, or choose, between the two versions.



Missouri study: common bacteria getting bolder, more antibiotic resistant

The findings of a Washington University School of Medicine study suggest that common bacteria could be on the verge of becoming antibiotic resistant super bugs.

Researchers said a family of bacteria commonly found in hospitals may be building defenses against some antibiotics. Doctor Gautam Dantas said this resistance will likely spread globally and the results could be deadly.  Dantas said physicians need to be judicious in how they use antibiotics.

Super bug - antibiotic-resistant bacteria (CDC/James Archer)

Super bug – antibiotic-resistant bacteria (CDC/James Archer)

“It’s a little bit of a conundrum. If we don’t get the antibiotics, people might succumb, but the more we give them, the more resistant the bugs become,” said Dantas.  “Every time we use an antibiotic, we run an experiment.  We run an experiment where we challenge bacteria to get more resistant and we need to save that for the times when it’s absolutely necessary.”

The study shows two genes found in a bacteria family frequently implicated in respiratory and urinary infections in hospitals are forming resistance against a strong class of antibiotics. Carbapenems, the strong antibiotics, are what are usually used to treat gravely ill patients suffering from bacteria infections.

Dantas said sick people with weakened immune systems visiting the intensive care unit could be at risk.

“If you happen to get an infection from one of these bugs, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance you won’t make it out,” said Dantas.  “If you were healthy, you could be carrying that same bug around and it will probably do nothing to you.”

The study was conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and the National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan.

Missouri caregiver to talk to U.S. Senate committee about Alzheimer’s issues

One St. Louis caregiver is in Washington today to speak to the Senate Special Committee on Aging about the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Caregiver and Chief Financial Officer of Rx Outreach Kim Stemley

Caregiver and Chief Financial Officer of Rx Outreach Kim Stemley

Kim Stemley, whose mother suffers from the disease, was asked by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill to speak on behalf of caregivers.  The committee, led by McCaskill and Chairwoman Susan Collins of Maine, will focus on the financial, economic, and emotional challenges facing those with the disease and the individuals and families who care for them.

“I’m going before Capitol Hill to ask for the increase funding and also to ask that the HOPE Act would be passed in this particular Congress,” said Stemley.  “We all share the same pain, we all also share the same hope in that there is an end to this disease and it can happen in our lifetime.”

The ‘Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act’ is legislation designed to improve diagnosis of the disease and increase access to information on care and support for newly diagnosed individuals and their families.  It would also require that individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia be documented on medical records.

“This would have made a big difference in my life, but at the time you get that diagnosis in the doctor’s office you really don’t know what to do, and you walk out the door and you have no idea what’s going to happen next,” said Stemley.  “It was completely foreign to us and foreign to the life that we knew, and our world at that point was turned upside down in many ways.”

Stemley wants to find a cure and has shared stories with caregivers across the country.

“The goal is to cure Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, and if not cure it, to have a pathway to properly treat it and reduce the signs of it,” said Stemley.

Stemley is also the Chief Financial Officer at Rx Outreach, a nonprofit mail order pharmacy that aims to make prescription drugs safer and more affordable for lower-income families.

“We exist to help people who can’t afford their medication, but their life is saying that they need them, so we make them affordable for people,” said Stemley.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in Missouri and the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s association.  The cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated at $226 billion in 2015.  By 2050, those costs are estimated to reach as much as $1.1 trillion.  Nearly one in every three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or another dementia and almost two thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women.


Medicaid protesters delay start of Missouri Senate (VIDEO)

Protesters have delayed the start of business for the Missouri Senate, parading the halls of the state Capitol calling for expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

The legislature’s spring break, recognized as the halfway point of the year’s session, begins at the close of business today.

Echo Garrett of Cape Girardeau was one of the protesters at the Capitol this morning. She says she falls into the current coverage gap and needs treatment for arthritic knees.

“An 11-minute visit with a specialist was $383-dollars. $383-dollars for somebody that is making $7.50 an hour,” said Garrett.

John Antonich of Pevely says his daughter and her husband fall into the coverage gap, even though their seven children do not.

“A couple of weeks ago I was here and I lobbied some of my legislators from Jefferson County,” said Antonich. “A couple of them told me they’re sympathetic, they’re behind us, they see the need when they go home every weekend, but yet for fear of crossing the party line they’re not going to do anything.”

The Republican supermajority in the state legislature opposes out-and-out expansion of eligibility using federal dollars, saying it would extend the federal debt. Some Republicans in the House have advocated Medicaid reform tied to expansion, but some Senate Republicans said at the beginning of the session they would block any such effort.

Protesters supporting Medicaid expansion have previously disrupted the Missouri legislature, including on the opening day of the session in January.  The Senate pushed back its start of business today while the protests continued in the halls of the Capitol.