Lt. governor wants change to state drug benefit

Sunday, January 30, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In his new role as Missouri's official advocate for the elderly, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is calling on the legislature to rework the state's prescription drug benefit for the elderly so it fills a gap in coverage left by a similar federal program.

The federal plan offers prescription drug assistance up to a point, after which participants are on their own. Benefits kick in again once a participant incurs substantial expenses for medication.

As a senator last year, Kinder sponsored a bill to use the state Senior Rx program to fill the so-called "doughnut hole" in the federal plan. That measure stalled in the House of Representatives.

Kinder testified in favor of a similar bill Wednesday before Senate committee.

"Senior citizens who have difficulty paying for their prescription drugs need help now," Kinder said. "This bill will close the coverage gap and still be cost-effective for Missouri taxpayers."

Kinder's boss, however, hasn't firmly endorsed the idea. In his State of the State address, Gov. Matt Blunt requested for continued funding of the existing Senior Rx program and in the meantime analyze the rules relating to the federal program before taking further action.

"We must determine if, and then perhaps how, the state can complement the new federal prescription drug benefit," Blunt said.

Upchurch uproar

Senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointees typically is just a formality handled with little discussion. But the effort to approve Gregory Upchurch as a member of the Coordinating Board of Higher Education on Thursday turned into a donnybrook over legislative term limits.

Upchurch led the 1992 push to put a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot to restrict legislative tenure. The measure passed by a wide margin and has since forced out nearly every experienced lawmaker.

State Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, believes term limits have been bad for the state and took his frustrations out on Upchurch, attempting to block his confirmation. Dougherty is the dean of the legislature, having served since 1979, mostly in the House of Representatives.

"As far as I'm concerned, what he foisted on the people of this state was a crazy idea," Dougherty said. "I don't know what other crazy ideas he has. I don't want him there."

The coordinating board oversees the Department of Higher Education.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, defended Upchurch, whose nomination he sponsored.

"It was not the will of Gregory Upchurch that imposed term limits on this assembly," Gibbons said. "It was the will of the people of Missouri voting in an overwhelming majority."

The Senate eventually approved Upchurch's appointment.

Game over

In banning video games from state prisons, Blunt said inmates should find more productive uses for their time than engaging in leisurely pursuits.

"It's prison," Blunt said. "You're in there because you've committed some wrong against society. It is a punitive institution."

Blunt's blanket prohibition on behind-bars gaming comes after it came to light that inmates had access to graphically violent titles such as the popular "Grand Theft Auto" series. After becoming aware of the situation, Department of Corrections officials removed the violent games but allowed nonviolent ones.

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