Health Forward maintains a commitment to igniting communities of health for those most in need. One of the ways we do so is by using our voice to ensure that our elected leaders prioritize policy changes that support the health and well-being of our communities. Our policy agenda guides our work and keeps us on track throughout year. It is worth noting that the policy agenda does not constitute the entirety of our support toward policy and advocacy throughout our service area.
As legislative sessions in Kansas and Missouri wrapped over the past few weeks, here is a recap of the health policy issues that Health Forward watched closely this year:
Some of the wins
Continued funding for MO HealthNet infrastructure improvements
The IT system that powers MO HealthNet — Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS) — is old and in need of replacement. We are pleased that progress is being made on the lengthy road toward MMIS transition. The general assembly agreed to Gov. Parson’s 2020 budget recommendation of $3.6 million for replacement and administration, and additional support services including an additional two, full-time employees to work on technical strategy and planning. Last year the budget contained $472,000 and seven full-time employees. A continued commitment to funding the MMIS transition gets Missouri closer to a re-engineered system that will appropriately support the MO HealthNet program.
More protections in place for vulnerable populations
Last year we saw a concerted effort to address the opioid problem as the general assembly passed numerous provisions that dealt with opioid addiction (see our opioid infographic here). We saw continued support for addressing substance abuse and mental health treatment during this year’s legislative session. SB 507, related to medication-assisted treatment services, was broadly accepted and pieces of the bill ended up being added to several other bills that moved through the process, including SB 514.
The suspension on MO HealthNet benefits of incarcerated individuals, instead of a termination of benefits, was an issue that received floor time during this session in Missouri. While the legislation that was originally filed did not make it through the process, language was added to SB 514 and HB 399 that effectively suspends Medicaid benefits when someone enters into a correctional facility or jail if the person was currently enrolled in MO HealthNet. Once an individual is released, their MO HealthNet benefits are reinstated, given that the appropriate process is followed.
Legislation that provides housing protections for individuals who are, or are in imminent danger of becoming, a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking was finally passed. HB 243 was delivered to Gov. Parson for signature last week. The bill would help victims of domestic violence to leave unsafe housing without fear of having an eviction on his or her record. Read this fascinating blog post from some of our partners in Kansas City that discusses the detrimental effects that an eviction record can have.
Health advocates across both states can feel some relief as efforts to impose work requirements on multiple social welfare programs in Missouri and Kansas fell short this year. While debate on the topic is likely to move into the next legislative session, these policies would’ve caused consumers to lose health care access due to the difficulty of documenting their compliance with the work requirements.
Missouri vaccine bills that were referred to the House Health and Mental Health Committee took hours of lively testimony this session. HB 1164, which would require physicians to provide information on vaccines before giving them to a patient, and HB 711, which would prohibit discrimination of children who are not immunized in schools, day cares, and doctor’s offices, were strongly opposed by the medical community and other public health activists. Neither bill received a vote in committee.
Watching next year
Unfortunately, KanCare expansion did not advance in the Kansas Legislature in 2019 despite intense pressure from Gov. Laura Kelly and a growing number of supporters in the House. Health policy advocates were encouraged when 69 House members voted in favor of expansion before the bill made its way to the second chamber. Senate leadership did not allow a vote on expansion, and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers temporarily held up passage of the state budget in an effort to pressure leadership to allow a vote. Despite the determination and hard-fought efforts of our partners across the state, the efforts ultimately fell short and no vote was allowed. Senate leaders have promised to look at the issue during the next few months, and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning has committed to allowing debate on a new Medicaid bill when lawmakers return in January.
Statewide PDMP in Missouri
Missouri remains the only holdout in the U.S. to not have a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Currently 84 percent of the state’s population does fall within the St. Louis County monitoring program and our entire service area is covered. PDMP has been introduced every year in the Missouri legislature since 2005, and many of us had high hopes that it was within reach this year due in part to strong legislative champions. The House bill (HB 188) seemed like it would be the likely vehicle, but faced strong opposition citing privacy issues and civil liberties overreaches.
Low-Income Housing Tax Credits in Missouri
Gov. Parson has been supportive of reinstating the Missouri Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program (LIHTC) that former Gov. Greitens shut down in 2017. While both the House and the Senate filed bills that would reinstate the program with a cap to the state match, they were not able to find a compromise they could agree on and ultimately both bills died on the final day of session. Gov. Parson’s office appears intent to revive the LIHTC program, so we will keep watch on how things evolve in the coming months.
Advocacy in your community
We at Health Forward are so grateful to be part of such a vibrant effort to create systems and policies that provide those most in need with the greatest chance of living a healthy life. We know many of you are joining us on this journey and identifying issues and advocating for change each and every day. This overview reflects just a snippet of the many things happening around health in our states, and we would love to hear more about the issues that are rising to the top in your community.