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Nixon calls for reauthorizing state prescription-assistance program for elderly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 14, 2010 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon reinforced his support for state programs to aid the elderly today, as he called on the state Legislature to reauthorize "Missouri Rx," which provides state aid to augment Medicare coverage of prescriptions.

Under "Rx," the state aid pays half of the out-of-pocket expenses for medicines covered by Medicare's Part D, including deductibles and co-pays.

Nixon said the program costs the state $20 million, but is currently assisting 207,000 Missourians who are enrolled. Participants' income can be no more than $21,660 for individuals and $29,140 for married couples.

He's pressing for reauthorization because the program is set to expire next August.

"For Missouri seniors, Missouri Rx is lifeline," the governor said, in a morning stop at the Grace Hill Murphy-O'Fallon Health Center. He made similar announcements during visits later today to health-care facilities in Kansas City and Springfield, Mo.

Nixon said that state Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis, and state Sen. Jolie Justis, D-Kansas City, will handle the reauthorization.

Nixon's announced support for "Missouri Rx" comes just days after he declared his opposition to a proposal by the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission that would end the 37-year tax break for low-income elderly and disabled Missourisans who reside in rental units.

Nixon said the rental assistance was "an important consumer protection" and needed to be retained.

(The maximum income eligibility for individuals is $27,500 for renters and $30,000 for homeowners. The maximum eligibility for married couples is $29,500 for renters and $34,000 for homeowners.)

The commission had been created by Nixon to review and reduce Missouri's litany of tax credit programs, which he says have become too costly.

Nixon's stance on both fiscal issues affecting the elderly comes as he and his budget chief, Linda Luebbering, continue to examine how they might trim $700 million from the state budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The cuts are expected because of the end of federal stimulus aid, which has helped soften still daunting state budget challenges during the last three fiscal years.

Nixon said that he and his staff are "always looking for efficiencies and effectiveness in our government."

But he called the Missouri Rx program an "island ... a place in a cost-effective way (that) made a difference for hundreds of thousands of seniors."

"This is not a place to cut. It's a place to support."

Nixon's latest pronouncements also may have a political component by allowing the governor to claim to Missouri's sizable elderly population -- who can be counted on to vote in substantial numbers in 2012, when he's on the ballot -- that Nixon has their interests at heart.

Such a move could be significant since one likely Republican challenger, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, is officially the state's "elderly advocate."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.