The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 23, 2013

Medicaid expansion, tax amnesty bills await action in Missouri General Assembly

Republicans ready their own Medicaid proposal

By Eli Yokley
Globe Staff Writer

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers cut out early on Wednesday to return to their districts before a winter storm blanketed much of the state.

But as high as the snow stacked up on the steps of the Missouri Capitol, a white blanket of bills has begun to stack up on the desks of lawmakers as the legislative session moves into full swing.

Democrats in the General Assembly introduced their version of Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan to expand Medicaid, as covered by the federal health care law. Under their proposal, the state would accept nearly $1 billion over the next year to expand its rolls to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — around $15,000 for an individual and close to $30,000 a year for a household.

Under the current rules, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the program over the next three years, before shifting down to 90 percent by 2020, leaving the state on the hook for the other 10 percent.

A study done by the University of Missouri and the Missouri Hospital Association estimates that some 300,000 Missourians would gain health care coverage under the Medicaid expansion and 24,000 jobs could be created in the health care industry. Citing the study, Democrats — including Nixon and Democratic Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel — have touted the program as morally and economically positive.

The bill will be heard before the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee on Monday. Because of strong Republican majorities in the General Assembly, that version of the legislation is not likely to pass, but Republicans are readying their own Medicaid bill to try to secure some of the federal funds. Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, who chairs the committee, is expected to introduce a bill that Republicans are touting as a “transformation” program for Medicaid, not expansion.

“I am very much open to Medicaid transformation and finding cost savings. If we can get a waiver from the government and do it our way, I’m in favor of that,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

Missouri Republicans have highlighted their concern that the federal government may pull back on its commitment to pay even 90 percent of the program. Additionally, Republicans fear reliance on more federal funds could risk the state’s perfect AAA credit rating.

Tax amnesty

Legislation that would provide amnesty to Missourians with late taxes owed to the Department of Revenue passed the House last week. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, would waive penalties and interest on delinquencies up until the end of last year.

Flanigan’s bill would require individuals to apply for amnesty, pay the taxes in full by Oct. 31 and agree to pay their taxes on time for the next eight years. The money would be applied directly to the state’s general revenue fund, providing a potential boost in the coming budget year.