Nixon repeats call for Medicaid expansion

Supporters of Medicaid expansion gather on the south lawn of the Capitol to view the 700-candle vigil. The vigil represents the number of lives, according to event organizers, that could be saved in the coming year if Medicaid expansion is pushed through legislation.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion gather on the south lawn of the Capitol to view the 700-candle vigil. The vigil represents the number of lives, according to event organizers, that could be saved in the coming year if Medicaid expansion is pushed through legislation.

State lawmakers still have time to expand Medicaid and improve Missouri’s economy at the same time, Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday afternoon.

With only three days left in this year’s General Assembly session, Nixon told reporters: “Our economy’s moving forward, but nearly fast enough — and there is a clear reason why — the Legislature’s continued failure to strengthen and reform Medicaid.

“This is despite the overwhelming bipartisan support from business leaders across our state, and despite all the evidence this policy would save lives and strengthen our economy.”

The Republican-led Legislature’s budget writers have said, often, that Medicaid is growing, adding more people each year and costing more state money as well as requiring a larger share of federal dollars in the joint federal-state program offering health care assistance to low-income people.

But the federal Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010 and often called “Obamacare,” envisioned having states expand the eligibility criteria to included people with incomes at 138 percent of the federal poverty level — with the federal government paying 100 percent of the increased costs for the first three years, and then offering a 90 percent match to the state’s 10 percent cost.

“Strengthening Medicaid would provide affordable health coverage to 300,000 working Missourians,” Nixon said, again, during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in his Capitol office. “It would allow for common-sense reform to promote personal responsibility and improve care. And it would enable us to help small businesses afford the costs of health insurance.

“And it would be a huge shot-in-the-arm for our economy, creating nearly 24,000 jobs — according to the economists at the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.”

Many Republicans oppose the idea of expanding the state’s reliance on federal dollars — especially since most of them believe the federal money really is money borrowed from other countries and the United States needs to stop its money-borrowing binge of the last few decades.

When asked Monday night about the chance for a Medicaid expansion bill passing in the state Senate this week, President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told reporters: “I think there are more people willing to vote for it today than, certainly, last year at this time.But there’s still very significant opposition.”

And, with the state Constitution requiring lawmakers to finish their work by 6 p.m. Friday, Dempsey added: “If you get a couple of senators up, it’s pretty much the end of the bill.”

At least six senators have said in recent weeks they would filibuster any effort to expand Medicaid.

When Nixon was reminded of that pledge, he noted that left a majority of the Senate who might vote in favor of the expansion idea.

“There’s time to get this done,” the governor said. “And clearly — you all have seen — the movement on this issue has been significant.”

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