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Senate gives approval to First Steps bill, 8 other bills

April 13, 2005
By: Elizabeth Baird
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Placing financial responsiblity of the First Steps program into the hands of private insurance providers and families won first round approval in the Senate Wednesday.

First Steps provides in-home therapy and services to children younger than three who have developmental disabilities. The program could lose its state funding to Medicaid and budget cuts that Gov. Matt Blunt has proposed.

The program served 8,041 children in Missouri last year at an estimated cost of $27.2 million.

The legislation would require insurance to pay up to $3,000 a year for the services, with families paying the remainder, on a sliding scale from $5 to $100 per month. If the services were still not covered, the state would pick up the rest.

Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, who sponsors the bill, said it was a good program, but was in need of some serious structural changes.

"We need to protect the program to ensure it continues. The Governor is in support of this legislation and is ready to shift his position on the program if the changes are made," said Gibbons.

Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin,s had contest with the provision that private insurance have primary financial responsibility, saying it did not evenly spread the burden of cost. Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, asked for the clause addressing private insurers to be removed.

"When you take this bill down to the 40 percent of the people in small business health plans and you make them effectively bear the cost for 100 percent of the kids program, that is not an effecient sharing of risk, that is narrowing sharing down," said Loudon.

The proposed change to the bill did not pass.

Sen. John Dougherty, D-St. Louis, said the bill didn't reach far enough into the problem, because not everyone is eligible for the insurance.

"So here we are making some attempt but we realize half the people in the state are not even going to be impacted," said Dougherty.

The bill awaits final approval from the senate, and if it passes, will be sent to the house floor for further debate.

In other Senate news, gjst before midnight Tuesday, the senate gave premiliminary approval to the new school funding formula, after a day-long debate. The changes effect the way that funds are dispersed to public schools.

The Senate gave final passage early Wednesday afternoon to eight other bills. The list included the removal of mercury in shots given to children under three and pregnant women, as well as providing tax credits for those who donate money to live-in rehabilition institutions.

Attempts to make the North American Bullfrog the state amphibian also came closer to law, passing out of the Senate Agricultural committee Wednesday afternoon. It awaits debate on the Senate and House floors.