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Drug Money Clears House

September 10, 2001
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House last night approved the governor's plan to provide state funding to help Missouri's elderly pay for their prescription drugs.

Unlike the Senate, the House retained almost intact the recommendations of the task force the governor appointed that was chaired by the lieutenant governor.

That plan would cover single Missouri seniors whose annual income is no greater than $23,000 -- if they do not already have coverage from private insurance or Medicaid.

The plan, as recommended by the task force, would establish a two-tier system. The first would cover those individuals with incomes below $17,000. The second tier, cover those up to $23,000, would be subject to legislative appropriation.

The Senate cut out that second tier coverage in its bill approved Friday.

In the House, an amendment to remove the second tier was offered but then withdrawn.

The House plan requires those in the lower tier to pay a $250 deductible while those in the higher tier would pay a $500 deductible. People in both tiers would be responsible for an enrollment fee of no more than $35. The state would then pick up 60 percent of remaining drug costs.

A firm hired by the state's task force on prescription drugs estimated that the program would cost under $100 million in its first year. But some legislative staff estimates have exceeded $120 million.

Further expanding the version approved by the Senate, the House approved an amendment that nearly doubled the asset limit allowed for those under the Medicaid welfare program.

The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, told the House that Missouri's asset limit was lower than that of any other state.

Hosmer's amendment would raise the Medicaid asset limit from $1,000 for individuals to $2,000 and from $2,500 for married couples to $4,500.

The House narrowly rejected a similar Senate provision that would extend the prescription drug program to what legislators have called catastrophic cases for lower income Missourians with extraordinary drug costs.

The House met into the late evening in a rush to adjourn the special session by the end of this week.

But the differences with the Senate version make it likely that a House-Senate conference committee will have to be appointed to work out the differences.

In addition to the prescription drug bill, the House also approved legislation exempting from state taxation the latest federal income tax rebate and altering the law regulating livestock prices.

The House had come under severe criticism from Senate members for not holding full sessions last week when the governor called on legislators to begin their special session.

Rather than taking up the Senate versions of the three bills that had been passed last week, the House leadership chose to start with their own versions.