- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri seniors, the blind and those with disabilities soon will be able to save more money but still qualify for Medicaid health care benefits under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The idea behind the bill, which passed with bipartisan support in the GOP-led Legislature, is to allow people who receive health care through the state program to keep more in savings that could help pay for unexpected expenses. Nixon said the new law will help “thousands of Missourians live more independent lives.”

The current asset limits - $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for married couples - are so low that recipients can’t prepare for emergencies, according to Aimee Wehmeier, president and CEO of the disability advocacy nonprofit Paraquad.

“Essentially, we had to choose between saving money and accessing necessary disability-related supports and services,” Wehmeier said in a statement. “In the past, being fiscally responsible and saving money meant losing Medicaid benefits, including health care, personal care services and reimbursements for durable medical equipment. Without these vital services, we would not be able to work or live independently.”

Starting in July 2017, individuals who receive the state and federally funded assistance will be able to keep $2,000 and married couples can keep $4,000 in assets - double the current limit. The limits will increase yearly until they hit $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for married couples in July 2020. After that, they’ll increase with cost-of-living adjustments. Money in medical savings accounts and independent living accounts will not count toward asset limits.

A state estimate says that the new law will allow about 10,000 more people to qualify for Medicaid by fiscal year 2021. Based on that estimate from the Family Support Division of the state’s social service agency, legislative researchers estimated it could cost close to $28 million in fiscal year 2018, $38 million in 2019 and $45 million in general revenue when it’s fully implemented in 2022.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, disputed those estimates and said he believes fewer people will receive Medicaid benefits, meaning it’ll cost the state less.

Eight lawmakers voted against the bill, including Republican Rep. Eric Burlison, who said he’s worried about the cost.

“It something that I’m sure we would all love to be able to do in an environment where we have the money to do it,” said Burlison, of Springfield. “My concern is that we can barely afford Medicaid right now.”

This isn’t the broad expansion of Medicaid eligibility that Missouri Democratic lawmakers and other elected officials have been pushing for years, which Republican leaders have said is a nonstarter.

“The most vulnerable are going to benefit the most,” Engler said. He went on to say the measure “doesn’t expand Medicaid, but it lets people who are on Medicaid actually live.”

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Medicaid bill is HB 1565.

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Online:

Missouri House: https://house.mo.gov

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