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Mo. Sen. committee proposes fix for blind pensions

iPad photo of Mo. Sen. Appropriations Committee meeting on 4/10/2012.
(Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio)
iPad photo of Mo. Sen. Appropriations Committee meeting on 4/10/2012.

Budget writers in the Missouri Senate have crafted a proposal designed to preserve funding for blind pensions.

The plan announced by Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer(R, Columbia) would use $18 million in federal Medicaid money to create a new blind pension health care fund.

“We’re gonna add language that everyone in that program has to go through Medicaid eligibility, so that we determine who is Medicaid eligible and who’s not…that’s the first threshold," Schaefer said.  "The second is we’re gonna put in language to establish a premium.”

Blind recipients deemed non-Medicaid eligible would still be covered, but would have to pay monthly premiums of around $111, make co-pays, and would have to meet an annual $600 deductible.  Schaefer says those additions would generate the remaining $10 million to keep the blind pension program fully funded.

“The blind (in Missouri) are basically treated differently than other disabilities in that we pay for all of their health care, regardless of Medicaid eligibility status," Schaefer said.  "So literally they really don’t go through a Medicaid eligibility review.”

Governor Jay Nixon (D) has also proposed using $18 million in federal Medicaid funds for blind pensions, but Brian Kinkade, Interim Director of theDepartment of Social Services, indicates the governor may not approve of the Senate's plan to have some blind residents pay premiums, co-pays and deductibles.  He told the Associated Press that the agency already conducts annual eligibility reviews for people on the Medicaid and state-funded blind benefits programs.

"The department would prefer to continue the blind benefits program as it is," Kinkade said. 

The Missouri House has proposed eliminating the blind pension program and diverting its $28 million budget to Higher Education.

The committee is scheduled to continue budget discussions Wednesday.

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.