Parson calls special session, setting up debate on contraceptives, Planned Parenthood

Rudi Keller
Missouri Independent
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson during a press conference from the Capitol on Dec. 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of the Missouri Governor's Office)

A special session to extend provider taxes essential to the state’s Medicaid program will begin at noon Wednesday, Gov. Mike Parson announced Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement was issued just minutes after a noon deadline set by Parson on Monday. The call came after seven members of the Senate Conservative Caucus sent him a letter demanding he include two issues pushed by anti-abortion lawmakers – to limit access to contraceptives and bar Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider.

At a news conference Monday, Parson laid out $722 million in budget cuts he would make if the provider taxes were not renewed. He issued an ultimatum to lawmakers as well, demanding they bring him a deal for a bill by noon Tuesday.

“After laying out the grim reality of our state’s financial future if FRA is not extended, I believe legislators have now agreed to a compromise that will end this stalemate, so today I am announcing a special session to begin tomorrow at noon,” Parson said in a news release. “We appreciate the continued efforts of House and Senate leadership to work with us towards a solution, and we are thankful that we are now in a position that warrants a call to special session.”

With only eight days remaining before the start of the new fiscal year and a limited time to pass a bill that does not require an emergency clause to take effect before the taxes expire, Parson warned lawmakers not to delay.

“Let me be clear, now is a time that demands leadership among legislators and not an opportunity to play games with billions of dollars and millions of livelihoods in pursuit of narrow political interests,” Parson said. 

In his call for a special session, Parson asked lawmakers to extend the provider taxes for at least three years. He also asked for limits on prescribing several contraceptive medications through the state-funded family planning program for uninsured women and to bar Planned Parenthood from being a provider in that program.

That means the call is “extremely limited,” said Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri.

“That is a relatively small part of the Medicaid program,” Lee wrote in a text message. “Planned Parenthood will continue to get all of the traditional Medicaid reimbursements it is getting now, and if Medicaid expansion is ordered by the courts – all of the expansion reimbursements as well.”

The provider taxes, known as the federal reimbursement allowance, have been used since 1992 to finance a substantial portion of Missouri’s Medicaid program. The taxes on hospitals, nursing homes and other providers, according to figures quoted Monday by Parson, are slated to provide $591 million in direct support and draw $1.5 billion in federal matching funds to the state in the coming year.

Without an extension, the taxes will expire on Sept. 30.

During the legislative session, efforts to pass an extension stalled when anti-abortion lawmakers made it the target for amendments focusing on contraceptives and Planned Parenthood.

When the bill came up for Senate debate in March Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, added an amendment limiting the types of contraceptive treatments eligible for Medicaid coverage.

In April, when the bill was debated again, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, tried to add language barring Planned Parenthood from serving as a Medicaid provider.

A bill extending the taxes would already be on Parson’s desk if he had signaled earlier his willingness to accept the two amendments, Onder said Tuesday morning.

“I was kind of disappointed with the governor trying to micromanage the process and threatening to blow up the Medicaid program,” Onder said of Parson’s Monday news conference. “I thought it was a little bit of a temper tantrum.”

The various forms of Wieland’s amendment all target medications and devices that are common contraceptives. He views them as drugs and devices that cause abortions.

Onder’s amendment to ban Planned Parenthood from providing family planning services paid by Medicaid was intended to codify language previously included on appropriation bills but ruled unenforceable by the Missouri Supreme Court. 

The language in Parson’s call is narrower than either Wieland or Onder’s amendments because it targets only one piece of the state-supported care rather than the entire Medicaid program.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said he thinks a bill limited to Parson’s call will pass.

“I certainly hope so,” Hegeman said. “It is not an ideal bill for everybody but it is a compromise bill. We think we have reached a consensus.”

Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo, however, said he was not sure things will go smoothly in a special session. Senate Republicans are riven by factions, he noted, and Parson has been reluctant to call the special session because of the chance that hardliners will inject new issues into the debate.

“When we get to a special session, they will want something more,” Rizzo said.

The debate sparked by Wieland and Onder’s amendments is about internal Republican politics as much as it is about the issues, Rizzo said.

“The whole plan is to conflate all these issues and turn it into a political football of pro-life credibility,” Rizzo said. “The hard task is the simplest task – stand up to the bullies and I am glad the governor did it yesterday and I hope he continues to do it.