Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday following the annual mid-session recess. It’s been a very busy and productive week in the Senate, as we passed 20 pieces of legislation.
On Tuesday, the Senate took up and perfected health care reform legislation I filed relating to telehealth services, also known as telemedicine. If passed, Senate Bill 230 would expand the number of providers and health care sites that are eligible to provide telehealth services under our state Medicaid program, MO HealthNet. Through telemedicine, doctors are able to exchange medical information via electronic communication methods such as phone, email, or two-way video.
There are significant benefits associated with telemedicine, including increased medical access for rural communities that usually don’t have access to specialists and the most advanced technologies, as well as more cost-efficient health care. Establishing a more comprehensive network of telehealth services in Missouri is one of the developments that came out of the Interim Committee on Medicaid Transformation and Reform, which I chaired.
Also pertaining to health care, the Senate Majority Caucus sent a letter to the president this week expressing our concerns regarding announced budget cuts to Medicare Advantage (MA), a popular program that covers seniors through private HMO and PPO plans. It is our belief that this latest round of cuts will only further harm our seniors, leaving them to face higher medical costs and fewer choices when it comes to their care.
Medicare Advantage currently insures more than 15 million seniors across the country, with over 30 percent of Medicare recipients utilizing the program. A recent analysis determined that the new budget cuts could cost each member between $40 and $120 per month. In addition, officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have estimated that as many as 7 million seniors insured through MA could lose their coverage by 2017.
As a legislative body, we must do everything we can to ensure the continued health and well-being of our senior citizens. This is exactly why members of the Majority Caucus are calling for the president to work with Congress to reverse these harmful cuts and develop a solution that will allow our seniors to keep the health care plans they know and like. Our seniors have earned this, and they deserve a Medicare Advantage program that works for them.
In other legislative news, I was honored to be appointed to the Conference Committee for Senate Bill 24, which reforms our welfare and food stamp programs, and is one of the more high-profile pieces of legislation the General Assembly has considered this session. Conference committees are temporary groups of House and Senate members that are tasked with resolving the differences between the House and Senate’s versions of a specific bill.
Late last month, I joined eight of my fellow senators in sending a letter to the governor calling for the release of $3 million in Fiscal Year 2015 funding for Missouri’s river ports. On Tuesday, members from both the House and Senate gathered at a news conference to again call on the governor to release those same funds, which are vital to completing necessary infrastructure improvements to our state’s ports.
According to MoDOT, Missouri has access to over 1,000 miles of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers; this makes the Show-Me State uniquely positioned to take advantage of our nation’s major waterways in a way few other states can claim. Considering a portion of the 3rd Senatorial District lies along the banks of the mighty Mississippi, the growth and economic development of our river ports is of special significance to me. I sincerely urge the governor to release the funds currently being withheld, as well as resolve to ensure that future appropriated funds are allowed to be invested in a timely manner.
Finally, I had the pleasure of welcoming a number of individuals and groups from the district to my office in Jefferson City this week, including: Debbie Thrasher, Debby Bust, Sharon Gibson, Jeff Richards, Gini Buchanan, Eddie Strauser, Judy Wright, Roger Coleman, Chris Massey, Bobbie Thomas, Mary Hathaway, Jordan Lundy, Yvonne Lippert and several others for Child Advocacy Day; Amber Pashia, Lisa Umfleet, Jeremy Leach and Ashley Merritt with the Missouri Pharmacy Association; former Representative Joe Fallert of Ste. Genevieve; Janet Akers, of Farmington, with the Missouri Association of Radiologic Technologists; Rick Bach of Ste. Genevieve; Rebecca Stokes, Angie Jimmerson, Garrett Harris and Tracey Hedrick with DCAI; Major Joe Schott with the Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff’s Office and Candy Schott; and Roger Crome, Aaron Luna and Pattie Goss, who were at the Capitol advocating on behalf of individuals with disabilities.
I’d especially like to thank my mother, June Romine, as well as Edna Crain and Shirlene Nelson for stopping by to see me. They were also visiting on behalf of Child Advocacy Day.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at 573-751-4008. You may write me at Gary Romine, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, Mo. 65101; or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.senate.mo.gov/romine.
This report is filed at the end of each week during the legislative session. This report was filed April 3, 2015.