Missouri Republicans ignore their own constitution and refuse to expand Medicaid

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The governor and state Legislature took an oath to support the Missouri Constitution, but they have decided not to do so.

The Missouri Constitution was amended last year to require the state to expand Medicaid eligibility. On Thursday, Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson announced that he and the GOP-controlled Legislature were going to simply ignore it.

"Although I was never in support of MO HealthNet expansion, I always said that I would uphold the ballot amendment if it passed. The majority of Missouri voters supported it, and we included funds for the expansion in our budget proposal," he wrote. "However, without a revenue source or funding authority from the General Assembly, we are unable to proceed with the expansion at this time."

When Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, in 2010, they included a provision to allow more lower-income Americans to receive health insurance through the Medicaid program. The law required states to cover all adults who earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level and provided 90% of the funding.

But the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the expansion was optional. While most states have opted to take the funds and cover their citizens, some GOP-run states have not — leaving millions uninsured.

After Missouri's Republican-led legislatures refused to expand Medicaid for nearly a decade, voters circumvented them last year by putting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot. Despite Parson's strong opposition, voters approved the amendment requiring expansion, 53.27% to 46.73%, in August.

Parson and every member of the state Legislature took an oath of office in which they solemnly pledged to "support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and faithfully perform the duties of my office." Violation of that oath is considered perjury and grounds for lifetime disqualification from public office.

Still, the Legislature rejected adopting any funding mechanism to implement the law last month.

"The people voted for this. We put it in the Missouri Constitution. That's what they voted to do," state Sen. Jill Schupp (D) said at the time. "Now we have people who took an oath to uphold the constitutions of the United States and the state of Missouri, and here we are with people turning their backs."

Supporters of the amendment now say they will sue to get the law implemented and 275,000 people in the state covered immediately.

"Missouri's constitution is crystal clear: Medicaid expansion must begin on July 1," Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, told the Hill. "Gov. Parson's announcement today that he intends to ignore the will of Missouri's voters and violate the state constitution makes this a matter for Missouri's courts to resolve."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.