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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri Special Session On Funding Medicaid Starts, But The Debate Hasn’t Changed

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Jonathan Ahl
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St. Louis Public Radio
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe on Wednesday presides over a special session of the Missouri Legislature to address the lack of a tax that supports Medicaid.

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Legislature is in special session to address renewing a tax that funds most of the state’s share of Medicaid payments, but the roadblocks that stalled the effort during the regular session are still in place.

The Federal Renewal Allowance is a tax on health care providers. While it is usually passed as part of the legislature’s routine business, efforts to eliminate Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood and some forms of birth control led to an adjournment before a compromise was reached.

The special session called by Gov. Mike Parson that started Wednesday afternoon did not change any of those disagreements. Conservative Senate Republicans indicated they have no intention of backing down.

“If the governor wants to amend his call and say we will have two separate issues, we’re certainly glad to do it. That’s not the case, so we have to take every opportunity we can to do everything we can to protect life,” said Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove.

At stake is more than $3 billion in revenue and federal funding if the state doesn’t pass the FRA. It has passed every year under both Republican and Democratic governors.

As adamant as some Republicans are about adding the amendments, Democrats are equally committed to a bill that is free of the restrictions, and they accused Republicans of playing politics.

“I don’t think this is about being pro-life. I think this is about political pandering. I think this is about folks wanting to make headlines over policy,” said Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City. “And I think we are going to put our state at severe risk.”

Unmooring the abortion debate from passing the FRA tax will be tricky in a state where several staunch anti-abortion rights advocates have been elected to the state Senate. But it’s a necessary move, according to women who benefit from Medicaid-provided birth control services.

“No one should lose their birth control coverage based on how much money they make or what kind of insurance they have,” said Kennedy Moore, who's with NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and is a recipient of subsidized birth control. “Reproductive freedom is for everyone. It’s time to stop the ideological attacks on birth control.”

At issue are certain kinds of birth control like IUDs and emergency contraceptive pills that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

Opponents call those methods a form of abortion. Some medical providers disagree.

“Contraceptive prevents pregnancy, including these methods that the legislature is considering limiting. It doesn’t interrupt a pregnancy” said Dr. Elizabeth Allemann, medical director of the Missouri Family Health Council and a practicing physician. “Statements in the law should be true.”

Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, introduced three versions of an FRA bill for consideration during the special session. One is a version that includes just the renewal of the tax, while the other two include the restrictions regarding Planned Parenthood health care funding and certain kinds of birth control.

All three bills were sent to the Appropriations Committee, which will meet Thursday. The House is scheduled to start its special session on Monday.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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