Blunt signs Medicaid reform

Gov. Matt Blunt answers questions at a press conference held to discuss reform measures signed on April 26.

Greg Salzer

Gov. Matt Blunt answers questions at a press conference held to discuss reform measures signed on April 26.

Greg Salzer

JEFFERSON CITY – Passage of legislation intended to reform Missouri’s Medicaid program was necessary to balance the budget, said Gov. Matt Blunt.

At a press conference April 26, Blunt announced he had signed Senate Bill 539.

“To ensure every child today that receives health care from the Missouri state government will continue to be able to receive that health care, while holding the line on taxes which will harmful to our economic growth … and most importantly to working families in Missouri, it is necessary to reduce spending,” Blunt said.

“In order to reduce spending, … we have to reduce social welfare spending,” Blunt said.

Senate Bill 539 makes more than 89,000 Missourians ineligible to receive Medicaid — a means tested health care program for persons living below the federal poverty level.

The current eligibility line is 100 percent of the federal poverty line.

“To fund the current budget,” Blunt said, “there would need to be a $601 million tax increase, $104 for every man, woman and child in Missouri. I believe this would be harmful to Missouri working taxpayers.”

Senate Bill 539 reduces Medicaid eligibility to 74 percent of the federal poverty level from the currently funded level of 100 percent and eliminates optional programs, such as wheelchairs, eyeglasses and dental care.

In addition, provisions of the bill are designed to root out fraud and abuse among those receiving benefits from the program, a criticism leveled against the current system by Blunt during the campaign for governor.

“We will do a better job under SB539 … verifying eligibility and rotting out fraud and abuse within the system,” Blunt said.

“We want to try and minimize the impact of these changes in the programs,” he said. “We are going to go forward on chronic care medical programs.”

Funding eligibility more than 74 percent would be subject to state finances and the legislative appropriations process.

Currently, the Senate has set funding in the appropriations bill at 85 percent eligibility and the House at 81 percent. The Senate and House, by rule, will reach a level between 81 and 85 percent in the final budget.

“Missourians are compassionate people,” Blunt said. “People of this state are going to want to meet the needs of the states neediest citizens.”

“Certainly, Missouri taxpayers are doing precisely that,” Blunt said. “Missouri taxpayers are funding a program that provides health care for 15 percent of Missourians. I believe this is very generous of them to do so.”

Senate Bill 539 requires certain recipients to pay co-payments for medical services. While providers cannot refuse to provide treatment, the bill permits providers to terminate future services if a patient has bad debts.

“The bottom line is the budget we inherited was out of balance, programs were growing far faster than the economy, programs were growing far faster than the Missouri taxpayers ability to pay,” Blunt said.

“This is not Washington, D.C. We don’t print money. We have to balance the budget. The only alternative to increased taxes … is reduce spending in state government,” he said.

Medical Assistance for the Working Disabled and general relief medical assistance programs are eliminated in the bill to reduce state spending.

MAWD currently allows persons with disability to retain state funded health care while working.

Supporters of the MAWD program said the health care gap between total disability and working prevents many Missourians from returning or entering the work force.

Both the House and Senate have added substitutes to Blunt’s proposed budget that was drafted as the original language of Senate Bill 539.

“I will examine each population group independently. If I perceive … expanded programs beyond Senate Bill 539, I would indeed use the line item veto to address that,” Blunt said at the press conference.

Optional items include wheelchairs, eyeglasses and dental care.

Senate Bill 519 does not include any provisions to detect fraud and abuse by providers.

“Rooting out fraud and abuse is going to be a priority,” Blunt said.