House GOP backs plan to restore some Medicaid cuts

Friday, March 11, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- House Republicans are backing a plan to require more families in the MC+ for Kids health care program to pay premiums in order to help restore some proposed cuts to the Medicaid program for the elderly and disabled.

The House Republican plan, approved by an appropriations committee on a 10-6 party-line vote late Wednesday night, would restore $242 million in state and federal spending cuts for Medicaid and other social service programs proposed in Gov. Matt Blunt's budget.

Among the House committee changes: an additional $57 million for psychiatric services and drug abuse treatment for people who don't qualify for Medicaid, and the restoration of $82 million for Medicaid services such as hospice care, ambulance rides and wheelchairs -- all of which Blunt had proposed to cut.

But unlike Blunt's proposal, the House Republican plan would trim almost $24 million in state and federal spending on the MC+ for Kids program, which provides health care to families earning too much to qualify for Medicaid yet lacking private insurance. The savings would come by charging premiums to more participants.

Democrats criticized the plan, saying it does not go far enough in preserving Medicaid services and shifts the burden to families with children.

"We should not be balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, disabled and particularly not on the backs of children," said Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis.

But Republican Budget Chairman Brad Lager defended the proposal, saying it would allow the Legislature to balance the budget while preserving some important programs.

The MC+ for Kids program provides health care to families earning up to three times the federal poverty level, or $58,050 for a family of four. The proposal would require a family of four earning at least $29,149 per year to pay monthly premiums based on a sliding scale. Currently, that same family would not have to pay a premium until its earnings topped $43,538 annually.

To save additional dollars, the plan also recommends taxing in-home service providers and reducing the amount of money paid to pharmacies through the Medicaid program.

That money would be used to increase the number of elderly and disabled eligible for Medicaid coverage under the governor's budget. The House Republican plan would allow elderly or disabled earning 85 percent of the federal poverty level -- $8,135 per year for an individual -- to qualify for Medicaid. The governor had recommended reducing the eligibility requirement for the elderly and disabled from the current $9,570 annual income to approximately $7,178 annually.

However, the House Republican plan also changes the requirements for the disabled to be eligible for Medicaid. It increases the disability level a patient must reach on an elaborate point scale to qualify.

The plan would also eliminate some of the co-payment requirements Blunt had proposed for Medicaid patients receiving psychiatric, drug treatment and in-home services.

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