During our time in Jefferson City, my colleagues and I are required by the Missouri Constitution to truly agree and finally pass a balanced state budget. Thirteen appropriation bills make up the state’s $27.8 billion spending plan for the 2019 fiscal year. Our proposed budget represents our priorities; it provides record funding for our state’s public schools and many of our most vulnerable citizens while wisely spending your hard-earned tax dollars to provide valuable state services.

The Senate’s proposed budget provides record funding for our state’s elementary and secondary schools. Our proposed budget includes a $48 million increase to Missouri’s education foundation formula. This formula distributes funding to our state’s elementary and secondary schools. In addition, the Senate’s proposed spending plan provides an additional $25 million for school transportation costs. In rural districts, this transportation funding is vital to ensuring children in large, rural school districts safely make it to school. Properly funding our state’s schools is a priority of every member of the Missouri Senate. A quality education not only provides children with the foundation needed to succeed, but it plays a major role in ensuring our communities prosper and the overall success of our state.

When the governor unveiled his spending plan for the state, he proposed a $68 million cut to our state’s public colleges and universities. This proposed cut could have been devastating to our state’s higher education institutions. However, budget leaders in the Missouri House and Senate reversed the governor’s cut and provided the needed core funding to our state’s public colleges and universities. In addition, the Senate’s proposed budget provides $3 million for a dental program at Missouri Southern State University. Through the funding, MSSU will establish a satellite dental program in collaboration with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Dentistry. A report released by the Department of Health and Senior Services indicates that 99 out of the state’s 114 counties have a shortage of dentists. By providing funding for this collaboration, I believe this new dental program at MSSU can play a vital role in providing adequate dental health to all Missourians.

In addition, the Missouri Senate’s proposed budget restores a cut made in last year’s budget to the Medicaid reimbursement rate paid to in-home care providers. By restoring the 1.5 percent cut, we are providing valuable, life-saving resources to so some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. The Senate’s proposed budget also includes additional funding for increased reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients in nursing homes. I believe both of these funding increases play an important role in improving the quality of life of many of our citizens who need our help.

Our proposed budget represents our priorities. By providing record funding to our state’s elementary and secondary schools and increased support to our public higher education institutions, I believe we are sending a strong message that our state values education and is willing to do everything possible to prepare our students to succeed once they leave the classroom. I commend my colleagues for their hard work on the budget, and I look forward to working with the House to finalize the state’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

In addition, the Missouri Senate also passed legislation aiming to protect patients from billing disputes between health insurance companies and hospitals. Senate Bill 982 addresses several issues surrounding how insurance companies manage emergency room claims. It has been reported that several insurance companies throughout Missouri have denied insurance claims because the patient visited an emergency room for an ailment the insurance company did not consider an emergency. The medical bill associated with one of these visits could be enormous, putting the patient in a dire financial situation, despite only receiving minor care. Senate Bill 982 seeks to clarify a longstanding state law defining the standard health insurance companies must use when paying for emergency room care. Enacted in 1997, the “prudent layperson” standard states that treatment must be covered if the sudden and, at the time, unexpected onset of a health condition manifests itself by symptoms of sufficient severity that would lead a prudent layperson, possessing an average knowledge of health and medicine, to believe that immediate medical care is required. The legislation reinforces the “prudent layperson” standard; the coverage decision will be based on the patient’s perception of their condition, not on the final diagnosis given after the patient received their treatment. If an individual believes they are in danger and needs emergency attention, we shouldn’t discourage them from visiting the emergency room just because a health insurance company might not consider it an emergency.