- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Joplin Globe, Feb. 14

Missouri lawmakers should block any attempt to weaken our state park system.

State Rep. Jeff Pogue, who represents Dent, Shannon, Oregon and part of Reynolds counties, has introduced a bill that would force the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to sell the nearly 4,200 acres of Eleven Point State Park in Oregon County.

The bill also specifies that “military veterans and the immediate family members of any member of the military who was killed in action or declared missing in action shall be given preference for the purchase of such property in the public auction. Any property not purchased by such individuals in the public auction shall then be offered to members of the general public at public auction.”

Forcing the sale of the park is a bad idea; giving preference to one group over another may not even withstand a legal challenge.

The Eleven Point has a storied Missouri history, and this park helps safeguard that.

In 1968, Congress passed the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Eleven Point was one of eight rivers chosen for the honor of being one of the inaugural Wild and Scenic Rivers. That designation protects 44 miles of the Eleven Point from Thomasville to Missouri Highway 142 near the state line. The law shields these rivers from dams and other channel work and allows for easements and outright purchases of land to preserve an undeveloped corridor along both banks.

It’s why the Eleven Point today has a wilder feel than many Ozark rivers.

But only about 60 percent of the land within the boundary of the Eleven Point National Wild and Scenic River is publicly owned, in this case by the U.S. Forest Service. The rest is in private hands, protected - but feebly - by those easements. Eleven Point State Park adds nearly 5 miles along the river to the public domain and safeguards nearly 6 square miles of the watershed.

Because it is near other large tracts of public property, the park augments the region’s protected habitat. Restoration of forests and fields will improve water quality along the river, and the park also protects 7 square miles of the recharge basins for a complex of large springs near the state line that pump out 100 million gallons of water daily.

Lawmakers need to remember that Missourians love their parks, as demonstrated by their overwhelming support in 2016 for the renewal of the parks tax - nearly 80 percent. And that goes for voters in Oregon County too, where nearly 69 percent supported the tax. And they overwhelmingly support the expansion of parks in Missouri when opportunities arise.

We urge our lawmakers to protect this park - a move that would benefit all veterans not to mention every Missourian - and ask that they work with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to provide support for opening Eleven Point and other parks that were acquired at the same time.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Feb. 17

Our Opinion: Legislature finally receptive to PDMP

We’re encouraged that the Missouri Legislature finally appears to be open to passing a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) for our state.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Abuse of opiate painkillers has become an epidemic that’s causing an increasing number of deaths. This program would save lives by helping to ensure only people who need the drugs would get them.

Missouri has the distinction of being the only state in the U.S. that does not have a PDMP. For years, legislation creating such a program has been introduced, only to fail by the end of the session. One of the biggest barriers to passing the program was previous Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. But Schaaf is no longer in the Senate, thanks to term limits.

He and other opponents have argued the program is an invasion of privacy. We counter that privacy concerns can be minimized, and that it’s a small inconvenience for something that will save lives.

Also adding weight to efforts to pass the measure is support from Gov. Mike Parson.

Discussing the opioid epidemic in St. Louis in December 2018, Parson said the program was “long overdue,” according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story.

Lawmakers seem more receptive to the bill this year, and it’s making good progress. On Monday, the House passed a PDMP bill by a vote of 103-53.

In the absence of such a statewide program, other similar steps have been taken, but none that would be nearly as effective as a statewide PDMP.

We commend House members for passing the bill, and we encourage senators to follow their lead.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 14

Medicaid eligibility crackdown pushes out genuinely needy Missouri families

Missouri Medicaid rolls have been dropping dramatically lately, a phenomenon that state officials say is due to an improving economy. That would be a nice thing to believe, but advocates for the poor say something else is at work: Many of those leaving the system are being expelled by a state eligibility crackdown that’s ensnaring eligible families.

Ensuring that people on Medicaid meet the standards set for the program is important. But too many stories are circulating about genuinely needy recipients getting dropped without warning, or because they’re unable to quickly comply with requests for voluminous documentation, and then having trouble getting back on.

Medicaid is the federal-state health care program for the poor that serves close to a million Missourians, most of them women and children. Income below certain levels and other factors are required for families to qualify. This program serves society’s most vulnerable populations. Missouri officials need to take a closer look at what they’re doing here.

Almost 70,000 people left Missouri’s Medicaid rolls in 2018, saving an estimated $50 million. State officials have attributed it to improved employment rates pulling families up so that they no longer needed those benefits.

Certainly, a better economy can move people off Medicaid. But there was a 7 percent drop in Missouri Medicaid enrollment last year, compared to a national drop of about 1.5 percent. Does anyone think Missouri’s economy outperformed the national economy last year by that margin?

Eligibility verification sounds like common sense: The state sends you a request for information, you fill out the forms and send them back. However, as advocates for the poor point out, low-income people tend to relocate more often, or may be homeless.

Even those who get the forms may not understand what’s required to remain enrolled in the program. According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, Medicaid recipients who got letters seeking information about their eligibility had just 10 days to respond.

It’s a process that has led to problems for genuinely eligible people like Tangunikia Ward, a single mother in St. Louis who learned only during a doctor’s visit with her 10-year-old son that she’d been dropped from Medicaid. It took her weeks of calls and forms and, finally, getting a legal services organization to help her before her coverage was reinstated.

It’s a story that’s being repeated too often to be mere isolated mistakes. “When we see over 50,000 children come off the Medicaid rolls, it raises some questions about whether the state is doing its verifications appropriately,” Herb Kuhn, president of the Missouri Hospital Association, told Kaiser Health News.

Those questions are worthy of an official inquiry from the Legislature or the governor’s office. You don’t reform a system by hurting the people it’s supposed to help.

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