House Republican leaders said Friday that a $35 million budget cut has resulted in fewer disabled Missourians losing state assistance than originally predicted, although the cuts haven’t been in effect long.
The figures likely mean lawmakers won’t be returning to the Capitol to address the issue before the 2018 legislative session begins in January.
The budget reduction was estimated to impact around 8,000 disabled Missourians who qualify for in-home and nursing care services through Medicaid by requiring them to display more severe disabilities to get state-funded care.
Individuals’ eligibility for assistance is determined during their annual re-assessment by the state.
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House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, and House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, said they have been notified by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that out of 1,008 people who have been re-evaluated since the budget went into effect, only 30 have seen their services altered.
The Department of Health and Senior Services did not respond to requests for comment to confirm those figures or estimate whether they were a sign that fewer disabled Missourians were ultimately going to be impacted.
“Those numbers are pretty astonishing, but there is still going to be a funding problem moving forward and we will need to address this either in a special session or early next session,” Richardson said in a statement.
Democrats were less enthusiastic about the statistics.
“Right now, we’re less than four months into the fiscal year, but at some point the budget axe will fall and it will be vulnerable Missourians who are hurt the most,” Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, a St. Louis County Democrat, said in a Friday statement.
James Stowe, director of Aging and Adult Services at the Mid-America Regional Council, said his organization has worked with a few individuals who have lost services, but thus far “the impacts are not sweeping.”
One possible explanation of the lower-than-anticipated impact, Stowe said, is that the population relying on these services often sees their health decline rapidly.
“Decline pushes them into higher need and therefore they remain eligible,” he said.
In laying out his budget proposal earlier this year, Gov. Eric Greitens called for an even deeper cut that was projected to impact 20,000 elderly and disabled Missourians. Lawmakers rolled that cut back to only 8,000, and eventually approved a one-time funding fix aimed at avoiding cuts to the in-home care program altogether.
But Greitens vetoed the bill, and proponents fell far short of the votes needed for an override.
Lawmakers vowed last month to work on a possible solution that could roll back the funding cuts. Fitzpatrick said in his statement that the House has “presented multiple solutions to this problem since this budget was passed last session and we will continue to work with our colleagues in both chambers to implement a plan to dedicate a revenue stream to fund long-term care for our seniors.”
But Democrats and some Senate Republicans have called the House’s proposal a nonstarter, specifically any effort to eliminate or alter a tax credit for low-income senior citizens who rent their home.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, said in a statement Friday that he still hopes Greitens will call a special session to address the cuts to in-home care.