JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation Monday reshaping Missouri's Medicaid program to emphasize healthy living and restoring coverage to some of the many thousands who lost it because of budget cuts two years ago.
The Republican governor was promoting different aspects of the bill at each of his five scheduled signing ceremonies around the state, highlighting health-care technology improvements, expanded coverage for children and women, and greater coordination of care.
The health-care legislation was a priority for Blunt and the Republican-led Legislature, which passed it in the final hour of its final day of the 2007 session over the objections of some Democrats, who had wanted the bill to reverse all of the 2005 Medicaid cuts.
After reducing services and tightening eligibility, Missouri's Medicaid program for the poor fell from a peak enrollment of 1 million two years ago to about 825,000.
Although widening coverage somewhat, this year's legislation focused on changing the way Medicaid services are delivered. Each enrollee in the renamed "MO HealthNet" program is to undergo a health risk assessment to try to catch problems before they become serious.
Blunt said the new system would provide a better quality of life, partly by focusing on prevention, and would be more sustainable for taxpayers. He said "tens of thousands" of people will be part of HealthNet who were never in the old Medicaid system.
"A lot of people said we need to go back to how we used to do it," Blunt said after signing the bill in his hometown of Springfield. "How we used to do it was bankrupting the state and failing to provide high quality care, and that's why we've totally changed the system."
Under the bill, the Department of Social Services is to work with an oversight committee to create several health plans with varying levels of care. All participants would be enrolled in one of those options, dubbed health improvement plans, by 2011.
By next summer, the department also is to come up with a four-year plan to increase payments for doctors and other Medicaid providers -- an attempt to entice more physicians to accept Medicaid patients. Certain health-care providers could get even more money if they have good patient outcomes, one of the key points pushed by Blunt.
Blunt also was holding bill signing ceremonies Monday in Kansas City, St. Louis, St. Joesph and Sikeston.