The state Senate is launching committees that will study three issues in the months before the new General Assembly convenes in January.

Ron Richard 05-13-2016

Senate President Pro-Tem Ron Richard (photo; Mike Lear, Missourinet)

Senate President Ron Richard (R-Joplin) told Missourinet he signed Wednesday letters authorizing those committees. They will look for ways to lower the cost of pharmaceuticals in the state’s Medicaid program; ways to improve care in long-term care facilities and to address the needs of Missouri veterans waiting to get into veterans homes; and utilities regulatory issues.

The cost to Medicaid of pharmaceutical aid was a key issue as the legislature put together a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Senate budget leaders said Medicaid pharmacy spending doubled from about $980-million five years ago to $1.8-billion.

Related story: Missouri panel to look for ways to cut costs of state prescription aid

The Department of Health told legislative budget makers it has some ways to cut costs but Richard says more will be needed.

“We’re going to have to figure out how we can trim those costs and make sure that we’re getting a good bang for the buck,” said Richard. “We need to be in that game and figure out what we can do to get the cost down so we can enhance benefits.”

Richard said if those costs aren’t reined in, funding for other state-backed programs such as education and prisons would suffer.

That committee will be chaired by Senator David Sater (R-Cassville), a pharmacist and member of the Senate Budget Committee.

The question of how to address a waiting list of 1,908 veterans waiting to get into a state veteran’s home is complicated. For several sessions lawmakers have considered, but not passed, a measure that would ask voters for $50-million in bonds to build a new 150-bed home.

The Veterans Commission, though, favors not building a new home but replacing the one at Mexico, which is about 30-years old. That’s because Missouri is over the limit set by the Veterans Administration for the number of beds it can have in veterans homes before federal reimbursement for building a new home would be cut off.

Richard wants that committee to see whether the state can get a federal waiver to allow the state to send veterans to homes where they can get proper care if there isn’t room in the state’s veterans homes, until the state can address the shortage of bed space in the state homes. The committee, chaired by Senator Mike Cunningham (R-Rogersville), will also look for ways to improve the quality of care and reduce the costs in long-term care facilities.

The Senate Committee on Utility Regulation and Infrastructure Investment will compare Missouri’s utility regulatory system to that of other states and look for ways it can be made more efficient and effective. Backers say that system has been “largely unchanged” since it was created in 1913.

The Senate considered legislation to address utility regulation in the session that ended May 13, but it failed. Richard thinks future attempts will attempt to address the regulation of utilities – water, gas, electric, and sewer – separately, rather than all in one piece of legislation.

“We need to figure out … if there’s a possibility of some of these utilities able to decide if there’s going to be a rate increase that this continued effort going to the Public Service Commission and these spikes going up to smooth out these increases if they’re needed and not have to spend all this money, which is taxpayer money, on lawyers and bond attorneys going to the Public Service Commission,” said Richard. “There isn’t a consensus on if that is needed.”

That committee will be chaired by Senator Ed Emery (R-Lamar).