Nixon outlining budget, policy priorities for Mo.

Nixon outlining budget, policy priorities for Mo.

By DAVID A. LIEB

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was expected to call upon reluctant Republican lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program on Monday in his first State of the State address of his second term.

Nixon, a Democrat, remained largely silent about health care issues as he campaigned for re-election last year. But after a resounding victory, he embraced a Medicaid expansion called for by President Barack Obama’s health care law. The governor has said that expanding health coverage to lower-income working adults not only would improve the health of thousands of residents but also could aid Missouri’s economy and even boost the state’s tax revenues.

Republicans, who hold commanding two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, have been skeptical of such claims. They fear that an enlarged Medicaid program — even though initially paid for fully with federal money — would cost the state money in the long run.

Nixon was to deliver the State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate, and hundreds of onlookers are expected to watch from the visitor galleries of the House chamber. The State of the State is an annual event that long had been delivered during the day but was shifted to the evening in 2005 by then-Gov. Matt Blunt in an attempt to attract more attention. Nixon has continued the nighttime speeches.

The gubernatorial speech not only lays out policy visions but is accompanied by a detailed budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Nixon’s spending blueprint for the 2014 fiscal year is likely to be larger than the current $24 billion state operating budget, partly because Missouri has seen improved tax revenue collections. The governor already has said that he will propose an expansion of a state scholarship program for community colleges and additional funding for early childhood programs.

The Medicaid budget typically comprises one of the largest chunks of the budget. In 2005, Blunt enacted Medicaid cuts that removed about 100,000 people from the rolls and reduced the benefits available for hundreds of thousands of others. The Medicaid expansion, backed by Nixon and Obama, would not only reverse many of those cuts but would extend coverage to many people who were never previously eligible.

An analysis by Nixon’s administration projects that 259,499 adults would enroll in Medicaid in the 2014 fiscal year if eligibility thresholds are raised to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which equates to an annual income of $15,415 for an individual or $26,344 for a family of three. By 2021, the additional enrollment is expected to reach 307,542.

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