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Missouri Foundation for Health to hold forum

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Discussion is open to 'anybody who has an opinion'

SIKESTON - If you have something to say about health-care needs in your community, the Missouri Foundation for Health is all ears.

The first of seven public forums planned by the foundation to gather input on health-care needs is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Ramada Inn.

The forum is open to "anybody who has an opinion or an observation about health care in counties in the Bootheel and wants to be heard," according to Dr. James R. Kimmey, the foundation's president and chief executive officer.

While the foundation has plenty of survey and observation data supplied by state health departments, foundation officials are "trying to get a perspective on what's really bothering people the most," Kimmey said. "The data takes out human factors not included when you measure the prevalence of a disease."

The foundation is not only willing to listen, but has the money to make a difference with assets valued at $950 million.

The Missouri Foundation for Health, formed in 2000, is the result of the 1994 conversion of the not-for-profit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri into a for-profit company, RightCHOICE Managed Care Inc. "Blue Cross is still there, but they converted the majority of their business into RightCHOICE," said Kimmey.

As not-for-profit entities are considered community trusts in Missouri, Attorney General Jay Nixon sued on the grounds that assets accrued by Blue Cross Blue Shield during its time as a charitable organization should continue to benefit the public and not private individuals.

The case was settled with 80 percent of RightCHOICE stock going to the newly-created foundation. About a year later, RightCHOICE merged with Wellpoint Health Networks. This merger eliminated some previous restrictions and allowed the foundation to diversify its portfolio, increasing the value of its assets by 130 percent since it was formed.

The Missouri Foundation for Health is now the state's largest not-for-profit health foundation, serving the 84 Missouri counties previously included in Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri's service area - roughly all of Missouri except those northwest counties served by Blue Cross of Kansas City.

In addition to gathering community concerns and solutions from the public, the foundation will also begin accepting applications Saturday for its first round of grants.

A total of $20 million will be given to selected nonprofit and government agencies for efforts in three categories: $7.5 million for cardiovascular and diabetes prevention; $7.5 million for improving access to health care for the uninsured and underinsured; and $5 million for supporting existing programs that target identified needs of uninsured and underinsured Missourians. For-profit agencies are not eligible.

Kimmey said the uninsured are not only the poor and unemployed, but are also those employed by businesses that don't provide their employees with insurance. In other cases, "even though they have insurance, its inadequate and they can still be made paupers by an illness," Kimmey added.

Kimmey said there is no deadline set for the first round of applications. Those projects for low-income and underinsured Missourians recommended for approval by the foundation's board beyond the $20 million will probably receive funding in the next year.

Kimmey said programs approved for funding by the first $20 million could receive their money as early as September.

Based on the feedback it receives at the public forums, from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and from other health-care agencies around the state, the foundation will expand funding in subsequent years beyond the three initial categories now open for grants, according to Kimmey.

By 2004, the foundation must distribute at least 5 percent of its assets each year, or about $47.5 million a year based on its present holdings.

The foundation continues to invest its assets and will use the earnings to fund grants and programs "which means this will go on for perpetuity," said Kimmey.

Dates have not yet been set for the remaining six forums, but they are tentatively set to be held in Kirksville, Springfield, Hannibal, Cape Girardeau, Jefferson City and Columbia so foundation officials can hear "the different problems and different perceptions in different parts of the state," according to Kimmey.

For more information visit the foundation's web site at www.mffh.org or call 314-655-2708.