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At St. Louis bill signing, Nixon 'hopeful' about Medicaid committees

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters he was “hopeful” that House and Senate committees studying changes to the state’s Medicaid program would result in legislative action next year.

The two chambers are holding hearings this summer on the health-care program for the poor.The Senate committee held hearings in Jefferson City, while another House committee is set to convene tomorrow in Independence.

Nixon has toured the state over the past few months in support of expanding the Medicaid program to those earning 138 percent of the federal poverty level under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. But the GOP-controlled General Assembly took no action, arguing that Medicaid expansion would be too costly.

Some lawmakers -- such as House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka -- has emphasized "transforming" the program.

At a bill signing at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Nixon said he hoped that lawmakers would engage in “thoughtful and focused” deliberations “on both the short term and the long term.”

“We have an opportunity here not only to use $2 billion of taxpayer dollars that Missourians are actually paying to improve and reform our health-care system. We also have a chance to make Missouri a healthier place,” Nixon said. “And so, I’m hopeful that these various committees will be used this summer on a good, tight timeline to look at ways to reform and improve the system.”

Nixon said he hoped that the committee moved expeditiously enough “so hopefully next year we can get to reform and improve access to health care.”

“Because if we don’t, what we’re going to see is the cost shift over into premiums and folks with insurance are going to see significant spikes up in their cost,” said Nixon, adding that hospitals may constrict if they lose federal funds. “That’s why this is an important process they’re going through and we’re hopeful that it leads to fruitful progress.”

Bill signing stretch continues

Nixon was in St. Louis to sign two bills focused on the health and safety of children. The governor has until July 14 to sign or veto bills.

The first bill – SB 230 – requires all infants born in Missouri to be screened for critical congenital heart disease, or CCHD. The test would measure the amount of oxygen in an infant’s blood.

“Many of these heart defects are treatable with quick intervention, but the symptoms aren’t always obvious,” Nixon said. “This screening could save 50 to 100 lives in Missouri alone each year.” 

The governor also signed HB 505, which requires certain individuals to report child abuse directly to the Missouri’s Children’s Division.

According to Nixon, a previous version of the law allowed “mandatory reporters” – including doctors, nurses, teachers, coaches and law enforcement officers – to report any abuse to a superior or “designated agent” within their organization.

“But instead of making a report to the Children’s Division directly, mandatory reporters can opt to tell a superior or another designated agent within their organization,” Nixon said. “This may be in the best interest of that organization, but it is not in the best interest of that child.”

Nixon added that the bill "will help to eliminate delays and make it clear that this is not a responsibility that any of us pass to anybody else.”

Before he came to St. Louis, Nixon also signed legislation increasing the time after the birth of an infant from five days to 45 days that a parent may voluntarily relinquish a child to a health-care provider on the staff of a hospital, a firefighter, an EMT or a law enforcement officer.

Mum on Kroenke talks

Nixon was mum, though, on potential one-on-one talks with Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of the St. Louis Rams. 

Nixon answers a question about meeting with St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

Late last week, the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission announced it would not spend $700 million to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome. It’s been widely reported that Nixon and Kroenke will now talk about the possibility of a new stadium.

When asked whether he’s had any conversations yet with Kroneke, Nixon told reporters that “I’ve certainly had the opportunity over the months and years to talk to Stan.” 

“We’ll wait and see what they want to do moving forward and what sort of longer term commitments they want,” Nixon said. “I look forward to keeping an open dialogue. But the point is, we need to see what they want to do.”

He quipped that the two played pick-up games of basketball together when they both attended the University of Missouri-Columbia. Nixon said Kroenke -- the owner of the Denver Nuggets -- is "a very good shooter."

“We’re blessed to have two solid NFL franchises that have good solid impact in our state,” Nixon said. “But we’re also a state where resources are going to continue to be focused as narrowly as possible on things that will make a good long-term difference. So that’s as much evading of that question that I’ll do.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.