Some of the state's greatest heroes made their way to the State Capitol this week to be honored for their service to this country. Vietnam veterans traveled to Jefferson City to be honored by lawmakers during the annual observance of Vietnam Veterans Day. The observance of Vietnam Veterans Day was created by HB 1128, which was approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor in 2012. The day is meant to recognize the courage and patriotism of those who served during the Vietnam Conflict.
On another note, Spring Break ended this week. As we move closer to the end of session, we will work quickly to pass legislation that is beneficial for Missouri, and I have a few bills that might make it across the finish line. Of these, two are moving swiftly.
After passing out of the House almost unanimously, my HB 2429 has moved over to the Senate to begin the second leg of its journey. This bill will add to the list of exemptions from the required workers' compensation list all volunteers of veterans' service organizations (American Legions, VFWs, etc.). This is a helpful bill for about 95% of the VSOs in Missouri with smaller budgets and a dependence on volunteers to keep the doors open.
Also, my HB 2234, which allows the Dept. of Higher Education to establish a website containing information directing students to resources including academic programs, financial aid, and transferability of coursework for participating institutions of higher education, was passed out of the House this week by a vote of 141 "yes" and 6 "no". This legislation will help consolidate college information for entering and transfer students in one site; one stop shopping if you will! The bill has now moved on to the Senate.
Expanding Access to Health Care (HB 2029 and 1923)
Missourians with chronic illnesses would have better access to the medications they need under legislation approved by the House this week. The legislation is designed to prevent redundant "step therapy" so that patients who switch health insurance benefits are not forced to retry medications that have already proven to be ineffective before being allowed to use medication that works.
With step therapy, a patient will first use the most cost-effective and safest medication and, if it is not effective, will then move to a more costly therapy. Step therapy is an effective process, but often a patient is required to start the process all over again when changing insurance providers. The legislation approved by the House simply ensures that a patient will not have to go through the step process again. In effect, it makes it so the medicine prescribed by the patient's doctor is the medicine the patient is allowed to take. The legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support and is now on its way to the Senate for consideration.
The Missouri House approved legislation this week designed to modernize health care in Missouri, and improve the level of care provided by the state's system of Medicaid. The legislation brings telehealth services in Missouri into state statute and works to bring greater access to health care to Missourians in rural and underserved areas.
The bill would update Missouri's laws on Medicaid reimbursement in regard to telehealth services so that more health care professionals can provide telehealth care to Medicaid recipients. Supporters of the bill say it is an important change that will allow patients to receive care without having to travel long distances. They noted the change could also result in a significant cost savings. In 2015 the state's Medicaid program allocated more than $40 million for use in providing non-emergency medical transportation to take patients in underserved areas to see specialists.
The legislation would further expand telehealth services by adding schools as an approved originating site that is eligible for Medicaid reimbursement. Additionally, the bill clarifies the law regarding prescriptions made by a physician via telemedicine to better ensure pharmacies will provide the prescribed medication.
Telehealth is a means of delivering health care through the use of videoconferencing and other telecommunication technologies. It allows patients to have a live, real-time interaction with a specialist, who can provide care almost as effectively as if they are in the same room. Telemedicine has been an option for some Missourians for more than two decades now and the Missouri Telehealth Network has more than 200 sites in 62 Missouri counties. The network provided 30,000 appointments in 2013 that allowed most patients to see specialists that weren't available in their hometown. A recent study by the network found that 90 percent of patients and providers were satisfied with the quality of care they received via telemedicine.
House Moves to Ban Powdered Alcohol (HB 1786)
To date nearly 30 states have enacted laws to ban the sale of powdered alcohol. The Missouri House took an important step this week to add Missouri to the list of states where the sale of the powder version of vodka, rum and cocktails would be prohibited.
The legislation approved by the House would prohibit the sale or serving of powdered alcohol. It also would create the offense of illegal possession of powdered alcohol. A violation of the provisions of the bill would be a class C misdemeanor.
Supporters of the bill say that powdered alcohol would contribute to underage drinking. They noted that it comes in powder or capsule form, which would appeal to minors and make it very easy to conceal even in places where alcohol is not permitted. Opponents pointed out that the product has been approved for sale in the United States by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. They said the legislature should not interfere with the free market by limiting the ability of consumers to choose whether to buy the product. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
First Ethics Reform Measure Advances to Governor's Desk (HB 1983)
Making good on the promise to make substantive ethics reform a top priority, the General Assembly sent legislation to the governor's desk this week that would help improve the culture at the State Capitol. The legislation that has now received final approval from both the House and Senate would prohibit statewide elected officials and members of the General Assembly from receiving compensation as paid political consultants.
The bill, would ensure that elected officials do not receive pay for campaign strategy or fundraising work while in office. As the sponsor of the legislation told his colleagues, some elected officials have used their positions to gain personal wealth, and the bill is meant to prevent this type of conflict of interest. The bill now awaits the signature of the governor, who has said he supports strengthening the state's ethics laws.
It is an honor to serve the 51st District in the Missouri House of Representatives. Each week I will issue a capitol report to keep you informed of activities in Jefferson City. Any concerns or issues you might have are of great interest to me. I look forward to your input and thoughts, so please feel free to contact me at any time if you have questions, concerns, or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for all Missourians. My telephone number is 573-751-2204 or you may contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for working with me to make Missouri a great place to live.