March 31, 2015

Proposed cuts to Missouri’s blind pension halted

The Nixon administration has backed away from cutting benefits to hundreds of Missouri’s blind pension recipients.

cane dayThe Department of Social Services had sent out notices several weeks ago that the benefits would be cut by $33 a month. The payments go to about 3,900 Missourians whose vision is no better than 5/200.  That’s well beyond “legally” blind, which is defined as 20/200.

A state three-cent property tax raises the money for the program.. But Department Finance Director  Patrick Luebbering told us last week that’s not enough to fund the payments. “We have available funds of 31.3 million. Last year on the blind pension program we spent a little bit over $32 million and again in this year we expect to expend around $32 million, which leaves us with a shortfall,” he says.

The department had estimated the department would save almost three-quarters of a million dollars with the cuts.  He had said the full monthly payment of $718 likely would be restored when the next fiscal year starts, July 1 although that determination would be made later after the department saw how much tax money had come in.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article had questioned the need for the cut hours before the Governor’s office put out a press release saying Nixon had ordered the department to reverse its plan. Nixon says he’ll ask the legislature next year to add enough money to the budget to keep the payments at current levels.


New effort for a Missouri Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (AUDIO)

A state representative has a personal reason to renew the effort to make Missouri the last state to adopt a prescription drug monitoring program. But she will still have to overcome a big obstacle.

Representative Holly Rehder talks about her plan to introduce a prescription drug program bill.

Representative Holly Rehder talks about her plan to introduce a prescription drug program bill.

Every other state has the system that lets doctors and pharmacies know if someone is getting or filling multiple prescriptions for pain killing drugs.   Supporters of the program say Missouri needs the database  that limits so=called doctor-shopping and minimizes the supply of prescription pain-killers that are being sold on the streets.

State Representative Holly Rehder of Sikeston has a personal reason for trying again. It began when her 17-year old daughter cut her finger at work and got a painkiller prescription.  She began buying the drug on the street when she finished the supply she got at a hospital.   “We’ve been twelve years down the road of ups and downs in rehab,” she says.  But Rehder said her daughter has been “clean” for the last six months.

The House has approved the program but the bill has run into St. Joseph Senator Rob Schaaf and a few allies who have blocked it. Schaaf claims the database cannot be sure, a claim that Rehder says it not supported by the experience in other states.  He wants a statewide vote, which Rehder says is just a stalling tactic, and a limit on the amount of time the information can be stored, which Rehder says is worth discussing although she thinks Schaaf’s demand for a six-month limit is not realistic.

AUDIO: News conference 35:53

(with Rehder, Dr. Bob Twillman (American Academy of Pain Management), Jeff Rowland (deputy police chief, Poplar Bluff), Stephen Keithahn, MD, University of Missouri Health System-School of Medicine, Columbia).


Comprehensive study of Missouri tax code proposed (AUDIO)

It’s been 46 years since the state convened a special commission to overhaul the tax code.   A state senator who thinks it’s time for another one is filing a bill to create a new commission.

Senator Bob Dixon

Senator Bob Dixon

Senator Bob Dixon’s tax-break bill this year failed to survive a governor’s veto when Dixon, from Springfield, decided not to try for an override. Instead, he is introducing a bill convening the first state tax study commission since 1968.  The commission would go beyond legislators talking about changes.  “I’d like to see tax attorneys, CPAs, business people, folks from the municipalities, folks from the counties and, of course, the director of the Department (of Revenue).”

Dixon says the study would not be a one-session study because the tax code is so large. He expects the study to take “two or three years” and concedes, “Nobody in this building has all the answers and I’m chief among my colleagues in  that. We just don’t know what we don’t know,” he says.

He does know some tax proposals will be filed for the next session. And he’ll renew some of his 2014 proposals for tax breaks on data centers, fitness centers, dance studios and some non-profit issues. But Dixon hopes lawmakers in 2015 will turn back substantial changes in the tax code..

AUDIO: Dixon interview 4:07


Open enrollment is—open (Audio)

Open enrollment in the federal health insurance plan appears to be going more smoothly this year. It started on the 15th and it continues through February 15th, a shorter period than last year when the program ran into numerous snags for first-time enrollees.

The Missouri Foundation for Health is encouraging those who enrolled last year to stay in the program and to seek help picking the right plan. That’s because more insurance companies have entered the marketplace and in some districts, the number of options has doubled.

Foundation Vice President Ryan Barker hopes Missouri enrollment increases by at least one-third this year. “Last year, by the end of open enrollment, we had enrolled a little more than 152,000 Missourians…That exceeded the federal goal for Missouri by almost thirty percent,” he says. Barker hopes all of those people will re-enroll and at least 50,000 new families sign up.

He says Missourians who do nothing are automatically enrolled in the same or similar plan for the next year.   People wanting a new plan that will start January first only have until December 15th to enroll.  Those who want until the last two weeks won’t be covered until March first.

The February 15 deadline does not affect those enrolling in Medicaid or in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Missourians can enroll in those programs at any time.

AUDIO: Barker interview 10:50

Missouri House party leaders on Medicaid expansion future (VIDEOS)

The future of the Medicaid expansion debate seems clear with the state legislature dominated by Republicans who oppose it, but Democrats say they’ll keep pushing.

John Diehl addresses the media the morning after his caucus was extended to a 118-member majority in the Missouri House.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

John Diehl addresses the media the morning after his caucus was extended to a 118-member majority in the Missouri House. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Governor Jay Nixon has told reporters the expansion of Medicaid remains important and says he will push for it. Asked to respond, House Speaker-Elect John Diehl first turns and draws reporters’ eyes to his 117 fellow House Republicans.

“Take a look at the elections,” says Diehl. “I think clearly on the federal level Obamacare has been rejected by the voters of this country and I think if you take a look at the elections that happened [Tuesday], I think it’s also been rejected by the voters of this state.”

Video:  Speaker-Elect John Diehl is critical of the timing of Democrats’ support for Medicaid expansion

Democrats have only 45 members in the state House, but the caucus’ leader Jacob Hummel says they will also keep pushing for expansion.

“Absolutely. It’s the right thing to do. I think it’s crucial,” says Hummel. “You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people that don’t have access to health insurance because they don’t qualify to be on the exchange and it’s really a shame. The state’s losing a lot of money.”

Diehl says Republicans will look for ways to reform Medicaid and Hummel says that’s something his party has always been willing to talk about.

“There’s no doubt that the Medicaid system that we have now to implement the low threshold of eligibility right now is broken,” says Diehl. “That has to be fixed, it wastes money, it doesn’t provide the medical services that are needed … and so yes, I think we’re going to probably try to address that.”

Hummel says he’s always been willing to talk reform, but wants to see some action.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to vote on it. It was brought up as kind of a circus show,” says Hummel. “I think it would have passed last year if we would have had a vote on it out of the House. Getting it out of the Senate is obviously another matter.”

Video:  Jacob Hummel says his party wants to see some movement on the Medicaid issue