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Missouri Senate prepares to take on disabled workers assistance bill

April 14, 2006
By: John Amick
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1742

JEFFERSON CITY - As soon as next week, the Missouri Senate will take up legislation that would restore medical assistance to certain disabled workers in the state, a restoration of last session's Medicaid cuts.

"We took a program that was literally bankrupting the state," the bill's sponsor said of last year's cuts in Medicaid. "We had to get rid of it (the disabled workers' program) last year," said Rep. Charles Portwood, R-Ballwin and the sponsor of legislation to restore some of those cuts this year.

"This year we created a program that meets those needs and now its going to cover 3,200 more people who work and that are disabled."

Portwood's bill was passed in the House in early March and is waiting for Senate approval. He says the approximately 3,200 people that would be helped by the legislation will join the more than 10,000 disabled workers currently receiving some type of Medicaid coverage in Missouri.

To be eligible for the program, the family of an individual requesting medical assistance must have a gross income of less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Portwood says the former program allowed for a person making little money to receive assistance despite being married to someone making as much as $100,000 a year.

"Some people were taking advantage of the system, and it just wasn't right," he said.

Tim Azinger, executive director of the L.I.F.E. Center for Independent Living in Farmington says the bill is a start in the right direction for disabled workers in the state.

"I'm satisfied with anything that's a step forward for disabled workers, an incentive for them," he said. "The bill is not quite as broad I would like, but it is something positive that will open doors for those Missourians."

In a previous hearing for the bill, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said he saw this legislation as a 'more work, more reward' type of agreement, as he urged his fellow lawmakers to consider the obstacles disabled workers face.

"Not knowing that someone is going to help you get dressed in the morning, or help you get out of the house, that is stressful on these people," he said.

The bill requires those participating the program whose gross income exceeds 100 percent of the federal poverty level to pay a premium.

In March, many House Democrats voiced disapproval of this premium provision of the bill.

"At the very least, we could have adopted a proposed premium cap of four percent of recipient's income, which is the average of what state legislators pay in premiums for their taxpayer-funded health insurance," said Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, back in March. "In this bill, however, we are asking these low-income disabled workers to pay premiums of 7.5 percent. This seems hypocritical."

The legislation exempts any income earned through certified extended employment at a sheltered workshop.

The bill also requires that an individual meet the definition of a disabled person under the federal Supplemental Security Income Program or language under the federal Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.