Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

State Slow to Fully Deliver Program for Low-Income Pregnant Women

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

State Slow to Fully Deliver Program for Low-Income Pregnant Women

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY * For women facing an unplanned pregnancy, the economics of having a baby can be daunting.

The weight of college loans, a low-paying job or a lack of comprehensive insurance can tip the scales toward an abortion.

Missouri's Republican-led Legislature passed a bill approved by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2014 that would provide health insurance to pregnant women who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to pay for a private health plan.

But more than a year later, the Show-Me Healthy Babies program has failed to get off the ground.

State officials say they could not implement the program until lawmakers appropriated funding for it, but advocacy groups argue that a funding stream was unnecessary to begin the approval process with the federal government.

Planners expect the program to enroll about 1,800 pregnant women who earn up to three times the poverty level, or $59,370 for a family of three, in its first year. Missouri's Medicaid program currently provides coverage for pregnant women who make up to 185 percent of the federal poverty line in annual income, which is about $36,600 for a family of three.

The legislation required the state Department of Social Services, which oversees the Medicaid program, to submit a plan within 60 days of the bill's effective date Aug. 28, 2014 for program approval to the federal government.

The department waited until last month to submit that plan.

Joe Parks, director of the department's Mo HealthNet Division, told Sam Lee, president of Campaign Life Missouri, in a December email that a lack of funding in the 2015 budget year that ended June 30 was to blame for the delay.

"We cannot proceed with implementation of the program absent funding from the General Assembly," Parks wrote.

He pointed to wording in the measure that said the state did not have to continue the program if funding for it was not appropriated by the Legislature.

Rebecca Woelfel, department spokeswoman, said the approval of the plan would indicate that the coverage is available.

"Had that occurred prior to appropriation, it would violate the law because it would obligate the state without the General Assembly appropriating funds," she said. …

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