A Democratic state lawmaker is still vocal about the need for a special session, even though Republican Governor Eric Geitens hasn’t indicated he will call for one.
Representative Deb Lavender of Kirkwood is passionate about restoring in-home nursing and nursing home care for low income seniors.
Over the summer, Greitens he vetoed a bill that finances the care by pulling excess money from other state departments. He said the move was unconstitutional and a “last-minute budget gimmick”.
After the legislature failed to override the governor’s move during their annual “veto session” in mid-September, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members have been working to find a funding source for the Medicaid program that would be agreeable to all parties.
Last week, Greitens’ office said it hasn’t seen a feasible plan to reinstate the services. Earlier last week, fellow Republican Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin had stated that lawmakers had presented a potential plan to Greitens, but hadn’t heard back from the governor’s office.
Lavender is still focused on a plan she originated to sweep surplus money from other state agencies. She’s doubling down on the idea, despite the governor’s claim it’s unconstitutional.
“You know that I have found the fund balances, and that we have just too much money sitting in too many funds,” said Lavender. “It’s just not good governance to have those amounts sitting around.”
The current lack of funding for the nursing care could impact 8,000 low income seniors, although the Associated Press reported that data from the Department of Health and Senior Services showed only 35 had lost services by the end of September. For his part, Greitens’ original proposal to balance a budget shortfall would have removed 20,000 people from the program.
The cost to restore the nursing care is $35 million. Lavender points out that in addition to the services themselves being cut, providers – including nursing homes and in-home care givers – have seen their reimbursements cut. The in-home providers alone have seen their pay slashed by 40%.
Lavender would like to reinstate all the nursing care related funding, as well as restore money for a Medicaid prescription drug program known as MORx. She pegs the total cost to be $80 million and thinks existing Medicaid money could be used to pay for it.
“We have a fund that has more than $126 million,” Lavender said. “I think some of that is the matching federal dollars that we receive, that we pay for Medicaid services first, and then the federal government will reimburse us the match. So, we think this money is just matching money that’s come in that we haven’t spent yet.”
Lavender also claims the state has surplus money totaling $3.6 billion across 469 separate funds that could be tapped into.
Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Richard Richard had said lawmakers could pass the potential fix if Greitens called a special session. But the governor’s office said there’s no plan with enough support to receive approval.
Lavender is convinced a small group of lawmakers and government staff members could quickly come up with a solution to satisfy the governor and the legislature.
“If we just put four or five Democrats in the room with four or five Republicans in the room – we would have somebody from the governor’s staff, and then Commissioner (Sarah) Steelman (Office of Administration), I think we would be able come up with a solution to this in less than a day.”
The 2018 Missouri legislative session begins January 3rd.