Medicaid reform commission cancels hearings in Cape Girardeau and Springfield

Sunday, October 2, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Republican-led commission working on restructuring Medicaid has canceled both of its scheduled hearings in southern Missouri, which has most of the counties with the largest percentage of Medicaid recipients in the state.

Democratic members of the Missouri Medicaid Reform Commission criticized the decision to cancel hearings scheduled in Springfield and Cape Girardeau, and immediately vowed to hold their own hearings in southern Missouri.

One in three of the state's Medicaid recipients lives in southern Missouri, and 19 of the 20 counties with the largest percentage of Medicaid recipients in 2004 were in southern Missouri.

The Democrats charged that the Republicans on the commission did not want to face their angry constituents in an area of the state that generally strongly supports the GOP.

But Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, the St. Joseph Republican who chairs the panel, said the hearings were canceled to help the commission meet a deadline to make recommendations by the end of the year.

The 10-member commission has held 13 days of hearings in Kansas City, St. Louis, St. Joseph and Jefferson City to gather public reaction to changes in the system. The testimony has often been angry and emotional from people who have lost their services.

The meeting scheduled this week in Cape Girardeau will now be held in Jefferson City, as will a meeting planned in Springfield in November, Shields said.

"My guess is that they don't want to have to face the constituency that voted for them," said Amy Blouin, executive director of the St. Louis-based Missouri Budget Project, which opposed Medicaid cuts lawmakers made earlier this year. "They don't want to draw attention to the fact that they turned around and hurt them."

Shields angrily rejected that accusation.

"We've had a lot of public input," he told The Kansas City Star. "I don't think anyone can accuse us of ducking the public on this issue."

Rep. Margaret Donnelly of St. Louis, said the four Democrats on the panel would hold their own hearings in southern Missouri.

She said Democrats would hold a hearing Oct. 11 in Kennett and another in Springfield at a time and place to be determined.

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