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Editorial: Foundation has big impact on health

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Thanks to the Missouri Foundation for Health, projects aimed at delivering health care to people who might not get it are receiving grants to make those endeavors a reality.

The foundation, which has a goal of giving away $35 million a year, awarded $9.7 million to 78 health-care organizations from August to December 2002, when it first started making grants. The total had grown to $32 million by July 2003, according to the group.

Southeast Missouri has had some of its projects come to fruition because of the foundation. The Southeast Missouri Health Network received $320,000 in grants for that New Madrid-based agency.

One project is to develop a video conference system so that patients at the network's Bootheel clinics could consult with medical specialists in other cities. Another is to create a mobile unit that could reach out to the community and provide basic dental screenings to children.

The foundation was formed in 2000 as part of an out-of-court settlement between Missouri and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Missouri. Blue Cross was attempting to convert from not-for-profit status to the for-profit RightChoice Managed Care Inc. in the mid-1990s.

Attorney General Jay Nixon argued that the public, not private individuals, should benefit from the sale of assets Blue Cross accrued during its decades as a charitable organization. The resulting legal settlement awarded 80 percent of RightChoice stock to the foundation, which since has divested itself of those holdings.

The proceeds from the sale of the RightChoice stock were used to create an endowment so the foundation can provide grants to support health care agencies and services that target uninsured and underinsured Missourians in St. Louis and the 84 counties formerly served by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Missouri.

The foundation's assets should remain around the $1 billion mark, which ranks it second in the country for "conversion" foundations, which are formed after the closure of hospitals or health systems like Blue Cross and Blue Shield. It also ranks third for health-care foundations nationally.

The foundation has done some good work. In 2002, the foundation targeted cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention. It also focused on improved service for the uninsured and underinsured. And it has made an effort to strengthen agencies with existing programs.

At least $1.4 million went to agencies serving Southeast Missouri, including such programs as teen pregnancy prevention, new dental equipment and additional staff at Cross Trails Medical Center in Cape Girardeau and an outreach program to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The foundation has been a critical boost to health care in Missouri. With continued monitoring, there's no reason it shouldn't continue to be.


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