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Conference committee reports budget bills

May 03, 2005
By: Chris Blank
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Lawmakers said floor debate about a series of negotiations that restored Senate cuts to higher education while cutting 90,604 from the Medicaid program is poised to begin Wednesday.

Although both bodies must approve the $19.1 billion budget proposal, higher education stands to receive funding equal to last year with the UM System receiving about $400 million, university hospitals and clinics receiving $23 million and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry receiving an additional $1 million for accreditation.

For social services, the proposal would coverage would include electric wheelchairs, emergency ambulances, oxygen equipment, artificial limbs, diabetic supplies and eye exams. But eyeglasses, the batteries for the wheelchairs and rehabilitation services to learn how to use the artificial limbs.

Initially, the Senate had pushed fewer reductions than the House, which in turn proposed fewer reductions than the governor's office. But the negotiations completed Monday night eliminate many of the Senate's restorations

The plan was completed several days after Gov. Matt Blunt threatened to line item veto parts of the budget that did not make enough cuts to Medicaid.

In addition to cutting the types of programs covered under the program, the legislature's efforts to reduce the number of participants in the 1 million-person program focused upon reducing the income level for which people become eligible. Under the plan, the new income threshold would drop from 75 percent to 23 percent of the federal poverty level.

Children, pregnant woman and the blind are largely protected from the cuts, but a state-funded insurance program for children in families without private insurance was tagged with a required premium. The MC+ program enrolls children in families earning up to three times the federal poverty level, or about $58,000 per year, and is one of the largest such programs in the country. Although enrollees above 225 percent of poverty currently pay a premium, a House budget proposal to expand the premium throughout the program would have removed 23,000 children from the program according to the Department of Social Services.

But negotiators accepted a proposal offered by Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis City, during Senate budget discussions to put the premiums on a sliding scale. The department estimated no children would pulled from coverage under the plan.

A completed budget is due May 6.