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Blunt's budget plan would remove 89,000 from Medicaid

January 27, 2005
By: Chris Blank
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Social Services Department reported Thursday that more than 110,000 Missourians would suffer Medicaid cuts under the budget plan announced by Gov. Matt Blunt during Wednesday's State of the State address.

The plan, which Blunt said would save the state more than $625 million in federal and state dollars, would remove 89,000 people from the rolls and reduce Medicaid coverage for another 23,000 according to the department.

In a brief meeting with reporters Thursday, Blunt rejected Democratic charges that he had violated a campaign promise not cut people off Medicaid.

"I didn't change my mind and kept a pledge to Missourians that we wouldn't examine eligibility until we did everything we can to maximize those Medicaid dollars," Blunt said.

At the same time, Blunt's campaign Web site continued to host a page in which Blunt was quoted by a newspaper as saying "I'm opposed to changing eligibility requirements."

The cuts Blunt recommended Wednesday would reduce Medicaid eligibility from those earning 75 percent of the federal poverty level to those earning only 30 percent.

The governor also recommended ending dental, rehabilitation and podiatry coverage.

Exempted from the cuts would be children and pregnant women.

A representative said the state's nursing homes, which are reimbursed by the state for residents enrolled in Medicaid, could face significant changes because the state only reimburses them for Medicaid-eligible patients.

"We don't want to do anything that would decrease the funds facilities receive because they're already underfunded," said Cindy Wrigley, executive director of the Missouri Association of Nursing Home Administrators.

Some advocates said Blunt "had robbed Peter to pay Paul" by increasing primary education spending by $170 million on the back of the Medicaid cuts.

"He cannibalized basic services for elementary and secondary education," said, Karl Wilson, Missouri Association of Social Welfare board of directors member. "That kind of cannibalization is shortsighted."

Wrigley said that Blunt's office had not offered her an opportunity to contribute to the Medicaid discussion but said that she planned to address the issue with the governor's office in the upcoming weeks.

"We will have to look at it and see what we can work out with Mr. Blunt and his administration," she said.

With nursing homes facing a potential cut in state reimbursement, Jim Barber, executive director of the Missouri Assisted Living Association, said he liked some parts of the proposal.

Barber said the cuts would not have a direct effect on assisted living and said he agreed with Blunt's proposal to promote that alternative to nursing homes.