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Surprise Victory for Bipartisan Compromise in Senate Health Committee

September 06, 2001
By: Nicholas Rummell
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A public commitment by Missouri's lieutenant governor to a Senate committee appeared to be the final ingredient in a compromise plan that moved the governor's program for the elderly to the full Senate for debate today.

The Senate Health Committee approved the bill just minutes after the Democratic lieutenant governor, Joe Maxwell, essentially gave Republicans political cover for cutting out a welfare-expansion section of the bill.

The committee eliminated a provision recommended by Maxwell's task force that would raise the eligibility limits for Medicaid -- at a price tag opponents argued ultimately could cost as much as $25 million.

Such a provision will be offered as an amendment on the floor by GOP senators, which Maxwell has stated he will support.

"I can agree and accept and support the Senate committee substitute which you will soon vote on," Maxwell told the committee in a slow, carefully measured voice.

In return, much of what was recommended by Maxwell's task force was included in the committee's substitute.

Committee approval of the prescription drug bill was just one of three major victories for the governor on the second day of the special session.

In the morning, the Senate gave preliminary approval to the governor's request for repeal of the law restricting the prices meat packing companies can pay for livestock. In the afternoon, the GOP-controlled Senate approved his recommendation to exempt the $300 federal tax rebates from state taxation.

Without legislative action, the average Missouri taxpayer would end up paying $13 in state income taxes on the federal check.

But it was Senate committee approval of the prescription drug bill that was the biggest win for the governor Tuesday.

Sen. Marvin Singleton, the Health Committee's chairman and sponsor for one of the prescription drug bills, was also pleased with the substitute bill, "a momentum of change in this special session" as he called it.

The now before the Senate phases out the current tax credit program for Missouri elderly.

In its place would be a new, privately-administered, program that cover a portion of the prescription drug costs of lower-income elderly.

The biggest contention for the legislature has been the price tag -- how many elderly would participate and how much it would cost the state.

A private firm hired by the task force estimated a cost of less than $100 million the first full year of implementation.

But an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Cathy Carol, refuted the task force's estimate of budget costs, citing that the bill could cost as much as $150 million.

Besides inflated costs, the enrollment in prescription drug programs also differed between the task force's findings and Carol's report.

Maxwell, however, told the committee he stood by his private firm's estimates.

"It is hard to compare apples with apples in this situation," Maxwell said. "The numbers we've used for this model are somewhere in the middle...exactly where we want to be."