Lawmakers voice frustrations at Eggs and Issues
Funding, healthcare spark exchanges with unclear resolution
A lively debate about healthcare and the push and pull between the federal and state legislatures marked the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast with area lawmakers and their representatives, hosted Friday by the Monett Chamber of Commerce at the Monett Museum.
An exchange between State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, and David Stokely, representing U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, each saying, “You guys need to fix some stuff,” reflected the differences in opinion and approaches to financial problems.
The exchange stemmed from a question about the Missouri General Assembly sustaining incentive grants for highway projects. Fitzpatrick noted how the Missouri House included $20 million last year for matching projects, only to see over-appropriation by the Senate eat up any reserve, in addition to faster increases in Medicaid costs than growth in state revenues.
Fitzpatrick continued to support housing tax credits for local projects seeking funding, though he thought Missouri’s practice of matching tax credits dollar for dollar on such projects, the only state to do so, was somewhat indefensible. Federal Community Development Block Grants made some grants possible, which fired the exchange between Fitzpatrick and Stokely over the future of that money.
The tenuousness of federal funding in light of President Trump’s budget proposal shadowed comments by representatives from other federal lawmakers. Joelle Cannon, representative for U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, said Blunt serves as chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. As a champion for research on cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, Blunt intended to closely monitor any proposed cuts, Cannon said.
Jake Heisten, representing U.S. Rep. Billy Long, noted Long supports the Corporation for National and Community Service, which funds AmeriCorps. Long offered testimony before the House Appropriations Committee in favor of the program based on the help provided in the recovery from the 2011 tornado in Joplin, despite proposed cuts from the Trump Administration.
“What the executive wants, it doesn’t always get,” Heisten said.
This push and pull between branches continued in Fitzpatrick’s comments about working as chairman of the House budget committee to set aside $100 million for emergencies and other unforeseen financial demands. Fitzpatrick said this seemed to be a new concept, as the legislature was used to “budgeting down to zero” each year. Fitzpatrick said he was challenged so often for this proposal that he finally stopped talking about it.
Much of the exchange with the audience focused on healthcare reform. With Anthem (Blue Cross) considering withdrawing from the healthcare exchange in Missouri in 2018, choices will become very limited, especially impacting rural areas.
Stokely noted the national debate largely mirrored the differences of opinion at the speaker’s table.
“Senator McCaskill knew Obamacare was not perfect from the beginning,” Stokely said. “It’s been a patchwork of successes and failures, and much more of a success than some at this table would have you believe. We can all agree we’re not there yet.”
“It never seems like the government gets involved and the cost goes down,” said Cannon, who has spent years working on budget details.
Heisten wondered if there was enough energy and resources to tackle both the cost of healthcare and the cost of insurance at the same time. Some simple things could help. He noted a recent regulation change declared short-term insurance could only be two months long, or one year long. At one agency, clients were changing their insurance every two months, starting the deductible over each time, a nightmare that could be easily resolved.
Fitzpatrick described negotiations over preserving increased Medicaid provider rates to nursing homes and consumer directed services approved two years ago. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens proposed eliminating the 3 percent increase and then increasing the threshold for reimbursement qualification. Negotiations with the Senate to save the rate and keep the old threshold involved eliminating a property tax credit for renters and moving that money to support the senior services protection fund. By the time the Senate was finished, Fitzpatrick said he “hated” the final bill, which passed.
State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, voiced his frustration with lawmakers refusing to take up ideas he advocated. He said he had filed a bill protecting human life beginning with the fertilization of an egg since his first term. When he reintroduced the bill this year, he was told by colleagues action had been taken on that agenda in the previous session and would not be done this year.
Likewise, Moon said legislation allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit turned out to have a wrinkle. Those who have a permit could walk into a place with posted restrictions about firearms and simply be told to leave and not break the restriction again. Those who did not have permits faced arrest and potential felony charges. Moon proposed a resolution to that inequity, but was told lawmakers would not take up firearms legislation again this year.
“I thought that was arrogant,” Moon said.
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, did not attend the breakfast, as he was in Jefferson City for a special session of the Senate.
All the lawmakers appeared to agree with opening comments offered by Stokely about such public gatherings.
“These are interesting times we find ourselves in,” Stokely said. “If ever there was an important time, in state or federal government, we want you to know who we are and how to get ahold of us. We want to be accessible. We need to hear from everybody.”
Jack Schulz served as moderator for the forum. First State Bank served as sponsor and provided a free breakfast for those attending.