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Prescription Drugs

September 04, 2001
By: Steve Ahern
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Just days before the start of Missouri's special legislative session on Wednesday, a possible compromise may have been reached on the major issue before state lawmakers.

Gov. Holden's prescription drug task force, agreed unanimously Friday to move forward with a prescription drug plan for the elderly that would replace a program the administration says is over budget and is not adequately help the lower income elderly.

The task force recommendation would replace what currently is a $200 tax credit that is given to nearly one-half million elderly Missourians.

In its place would be an assistance program target to lower-income elderly who have high prescription drug costs.

But task force agreement may not assure legislative agreement -- even from task force members who serve in the legislature.

One of the biggest questions about the bill's chances arises with Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Joplin, who chairs the Senate Health Committee that will have control of the issue in the legislature's upper chamber.

Singleton voted for the task force report, but then attached an addendum that made it clear he did not completely agree.

"The most glaring weakness of the Task Force report is the lack of a safety net protecting Missouri's seniors," Singleton said. It is critical that we provide a safety net or fall-back position from the very beginning just in case this newly created senior pharmacy plan is not operational."

Singleton also has questioned the long-term costs, warning the state may be launching a welfare program that ends up costing more than the original tax-credit program the administration wanted to scale back.

Task force chairman, Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, said he believes that the plan will help legislators reach a decision sooner, he would not speculate on how much resistance there will be to the plan in the House.

"It's a little early to speculate as to who the resisters might be. "You can't ever guess how a House member will react", Maxwell said.

Maxwell said that there are legislators who would prefer to postpone the plan until the regular session begins in January. "There are legislators who would rather not see anything done in the special session", Maxwell said.

Representative Mark Abel, D-Festus, said that the first challenge will be convincing other House members that the $200 tax credit is being replaced by the proposed plan approved by the task force.

Abel noted that $200 tax credit will end in three years, and the task force proposal would have no time limits.

"This is a program that will be here forever. I am very confident that they can overcome this hurdle," Abel said.

"The challenge now is to convince the rest of the colleagues, said Rep. Patrick Naeger, R-Perryville. "I don't see it as a tough thing in the house." However, he was not certain how the legislation would fare in the Senate

"If the bill comes out and totally wipes out the tax credit without a safety net of any sort, it might be a hurdle," Naeger said.

But administration officials argue the special session has to pass something to address the unexpectedly high cost of the current program that is help break the state's budget.

"The only exit strategy is to pass a bill, not to go home," Maxwell said.