Special session on tax crucial for Medicaid in doubt over Planned Parenthood amendment

Gov. Parson was expected to make a call by Friday for a special session next week, but that plan was abandoned

A few stragglers collect their papers in the Missouri Senate after the body adjourned four hours ahead of the constitutional deadline. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

On Tuesday, Republicans appeared to have reached a fragile consensus around extending a tax crucial to Missouri’s Medicaid finances — opening the door for Gov. Mike Parson to call lawmakers into special session next week. 

By Friday afternoon, that consensus appears to have been derailed, at least temporarily, by disagreements over a proposed amendment that would prevent Planned Parenthood from being a Medicaid provider.

House Republicans were informed in a Friday conference call with the chamber’s leadership that the governor will not be issuing the call for a special session as originally expected, and that a continued stalemate could lead to drastic budget cuts when the new fiscal year begins July 1. 

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, confirmed Friday afternoon that he has informed Senators that a call is not imminent but that they should keep the next two weeks open. 

Kelli Jones, the governor’s spokeswoman, did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

At stake is the extension of a tax on hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies and ambulances known as the federal reimbursement allowance, or FRA. The taxes have been in place since 1992, and lawmakers have voted to renew them 16 times with little controversy. 

Without a renewal by July 1, Parson has said he will be forced to restrict spending in the new fiscal year to sustain the Medicaid program. The taxes are budgeted to provide $2.6 billion in the coming fiscal year for the $12 billion Medicaid program.

The issue that derailed the FRA during session was an attempt by Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, to attach an amendment limiting Medicaid payments for contraceptive care.

Later, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, insisted that language be included that would prevent Planned Parenthood from being a Medicaid provider.

Senate Republicans emerged from a meeting with Parson on Tuesday with a plan to include a version of Wieland’s amendment but not Onder’s. 

Critics of Onder’s amendment say it would put Missouri out of compliance federal law.

In an interview Wednesday with The Independent, Onder declared that he would not accept any deal that didn’t include his Planned Parenthood language. 

“I think that there has been some narrative that somehow a grand compromise and deal has been reached and everything is great,” he said Wednesday, “but that is not the case.”

Onder was joined in the push by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, who tweeted Thursday that the issue will be dealt with during any special session the governor calls regarding the FRA.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said the drama over the FRA is an example of the continued dysfunction in the Missouri Senate.

Disagreement among Republicans bedeviled the 2021 legislative session, Rizzo said, culminating with the failure of the FRA.

While Rizzo had hoped tempers would ease in the weeks following adjournment, allowing for FRA negotiations to resume, he said “there has been no fence mending.

“I feel like they believed the inertia of this problem was going to bring everyone together,” Rizzo said. “But it has instead exacerbated the problems.”

The right thing to do, Rizzo argues, is for Parson to “call a special session for a clean FRA that’s been passed without any issues for decades.”