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Government, Politics & Issues

Parson Calls Special Session On Critical Medicaid Tax

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Daniel Shular
/
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Missouri Legislature meet for the final day of the session at the Missouri Capitol on May 14 in Jefferson City.

Updated June 22 with Gov. Mike Parson's announcement of a special session

Less than two minutes after the deadline he set a day earlier, Gov. Mike Parson announced Tuesday he is calling for a special session for the legislature to consider the Federal Reimbursement Allowance. It is a provider tax that helps fund Medicaid.

The session will begin at noon Wednesday with the Senate expected to start addressing the issue.

The final version is yet to be determined, as the session's language may also "Prohibit abortifacient drugs and devices" and "Prohibits funding for abortion facilities under the Uninsured Women's Health Program."

Less than a half hour before the special session was announced, seven members of the Senate's conservative caucus released a letter calling for the renewal of the FRA to "ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to pay for abortion services."

Original story from June 21

As the clock ticks toward funding cuts, Missouri lawmakers are still at an impasse on a special session to reauthorize a critical tax that helps pay for the state’s Medicaid program.

One hang-up is whether to include language in any potential deal that would bar taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood. And Gov. Mike Parson warned on Monday afternoon that he'll make massive budget cuts unless lawmakers come to a deal by noon on Tuesday.

At issue is a move to reauthorize the Federal Reimbursement Allowance, a tax that places like hospitals pay that helps fund Missouri’s Medicaid program. Efforts to renew what’s known as the FRA faltered in the regular session amid disagreements in the Senate over whether to include language prohibiting taxpayer dollars from going toward certain types of contraception and to Planned Parenthood.

There were reports last week that a special session call from Parson was imminent, but the week went by without such a move. Parson has said he won’t call a special session without legislative consensus over the issue, and he added that there will be budget withholds after July 1 without legislative action.

At a press conference on Monday, Parson said that lawmakers have until noon on Tuesday to come up with a plan — or he won't call a special session.

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"While House and Senate leadership, Republican leadership and myself are united in the fight to protect life, there is no need to jeopardize our strong economy and thousands of livelihoods to have a fight that erodes the trust Missourians have placed in us to lead," Parson said. "My administration is ready to act on the compromises that have previously been agreed upon. The solution addresses the concerns that have been raised while keeping Missouri federally compliant."

Parson was alluding to a deal forged in the regular session that would have attached a "severance clause" to Wieland's language. That means that if the funding restrictions to contraception was struck down, the rest of the FRA would remain in tact.

In a text message to St. Louis Public Radio, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, who championed the anti-Planned Parenthood language, said he would have offered that amendment in special session and was “willing to accept the will of the body — or we could negotiate something.”

“But last week, the governor’s office really withdrew from negotiating with me, and made the proposal worse with a five-year renewal,” said Onder, referring to renewing the FRA tax for five years. “I’d still encourage them to call a special session. We have a system of separation of powers. Every senator, and every representative, has a right, no, a duty, to offer amendments that he or she believes best reflect the will of his constituents and the common good of the people of Missouri.”

Parson said on Monday that he's spoken with numerous legislators involved in the FRA fight, including Onder and Wieland.

"For those who want to move the goal posts yet again, know that you and you alone will own this — and the devastating effects on Missourians and the economy if the FRA is not extended," Parson said. "This is a time that demands leadership among legislators. My office has done all we can do. We are counting on the General Assembly to deliver and protect all Missourians. We will continue to work with House and Senate leadership to come to a solution by noon tomorrow.

"But again, let me be clear: If FRA is not extended during a special session before July 1 — there will be no other opportunities," he added.

Complicating matters for Republicans is that Missouri Right to Life, a highly influential group in GOP legislative politics, said in a statement that without including Onder’s amendment and Jefferson County GOP Sen. Paul Wieland amendment to ban Medicaid funding of several contraceptive options, it would oppose the FRA at every step in the process.

“With super majorities in the House and Senate there is no reason not to pass both pro-life amendments,” said Susan Klein, Missouri Right to Life's executive director. “We call upon our governor and all other statewide officials and the legislature to prove that we stand with the unborn.”

RIZZO 2021
Daniel Shular
Sen. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, speaks to reporters during a press conference after the Senate was adjourned on the final day of the session on May 14 in Jefferson City.

Democratic leader decries impasse

The continued inability to get an agreement has been frustrating for Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, who has called for Parson to call a special session solely on renewing the FRA.

“The hold-up is a very small minority of Republican legislators who I would argue are ultraconservative are holding the Senate hostage,” Rizzo said. “It needs to be abundantly clear per Missouri state statute the Medicaid program cannot pay for an abortion and cannot subsidize an abortion. It needs to be made painfully clear this is about birth control.”

Rizzo said this entire standoff is more about legislative Republicans being able to showcase socially conservative bonafides to GOP primary voters.

“This is about birth control because they’ve cut to the bone on all of their pro-life legislation for so long that there’s literally nowhere left for them to go to get their pro-life street credibility in their political atmosphere,” Rizzo said. “They’re all running in primaries right now because Roy Blunt decided to retire in the middle of session … and all of these congressional seats are opening up. Everybody’s jockeying for position in Republican primaries.”

For Michelle Trupiano of the Missouri Family Health Council, the fight over the FRA is not philosophical. She pointed out that if the courts rule that Missouri must implement Medicaid expansion, Wieland’s amendment could shut out birth control options to thousands of more women than are currently enrolled.

“This language tries to equate contraception with abortion. And that is highly irresponsible in that the two are not the same,” Trupiano said. “So the impact that this would have is that, especially low-income women, would not have access to the full range of contraceptive methods, and they’d be forced to choose a method that is not actually right for them.”

For his part, Wieland said earlier this year that he didn’t want several forms of contraception, including Plan B and certain IUDs, to be paid for by the Medicaid program.

“I’m not outlawing these drugs, I’m just saying these things should not be paid for by the state,” he said.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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