JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) - A several month debate over government funding of health care for higher-income blind Missourians now heads to a House- Senate conference committee on the budget.
Earlier this year, the House voted to restrict coverage to the blind who meet the normal income eligibility requirements of Medicaid.
Early Wednesday morning, the Senate budget restored the $28 million program that provides health coverage to blind residents whose incomes are too high to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program.
“There are nearly three thousand blind Missourians who would have been affected if this cut had gone through,” Chris Gray Executive Director of Missouri Council of the Bind said. “We couldn’t stand by and let that happen if it could be stopped. Luckily for those people, the Senate has come forward and restored the funding.”
The cuts to the program were proposed in the House Budget Committee by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, in order to reverse the 15 percent cut to higher education proposed in Gov. Jay Nixon’s original budget.
Gray said for different people, the cuts would have meant different things. He said the Medicaid funding is their lifeline, and many of the elderly would have had to move to nursing homes. He also said blind individuals who receive the pension but are also employed, they would have been forced to quit their jobs because the income they receive makes them ineligible for Medicaid.
Gray said many blind individuals have a number of disabilities and a number of them would have had to resort to the emergency room for health care if the program was cut. He said this would be very expensive to the state.
The passage of the budget plan came after a two day stall by Republican senators.
Silvey said the only thing that was accomplished in the Senate by the Senators who began the filibuster was to put the budget out of balance and to spend money they didn’t have.
He said restoring the program to the blind unbalances the budget.
Nixon has been opposed to the cuts to the blind throughout the debate, calling them “just plain wrong.”
“I commend the Missouri Senate for adopting Sen. Jim Lembke’s amendment to restore full finding for the state’s health care program for needy, blind Missourians.” Nixon said in a statement. “For decades, Missouri has provided this efficient and compassionate program that offers essential health care services for blind Missourians with very limited financial means. I urge the General Assembly to send me a budget that maintains full funding for this vital lifeline.”
Lawmakers have until May 11 to send the budget to the Governor.
Link Senate Roll Call Vote: http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year=2012&ne_vote=950