Missourians are being bombarded, again, with misleading information about Medicaid and what expanding the program to able-bodied adults would lead to in our state. It remains true that Medicaid expansion would be disastrous for Missouri, especially for those who are most in need of the program, including pregnant women.
Thankfully, Missouri is one of the 14 states that declined to expand its Medicaid program to able-bodied adults, instead reserving Medicaid for those it was intended for — namely, poor children, pregnant women, and those with disabilities — among others. We must continue to reject this expansion for the sake of our state’s neediest families.
The reality is, able-bodied enrollees take critical resources away from our most vulnerable citizens — Medicaid expansion does not help them. These folks are already covered under traditional Medicaid, and it’s our duty to secure the program so they continue to have access to the services and resources that they require, while also ensuring the program can remain solvent for our state and our country long term.
This includes vulnerable mothers and pregnant women, despite a recent article published by the News Tribune that was based on misleading statistics that fail to tell the whole story about the true impact of Medicaid expansion.
Here in Missouri — as in states across the country — expanding Medicaid to able-bodied adults would do nothing to help vulnerable mothers in our state. Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet, already covers pregnant women and children with household incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), more than double the threshold established by Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Expanding our Medicaid program to able-bodied adults won’t help these women. In fact, it would actively shift resources away from them. It would also take limited dollars away from other valuable state-funded services, including education, law enforcement, and transportation. Unlike the federal government, Missouri cannot print more money when the budget runs out.
And if we make the mistake of expanding Medicaid, there is no doubt the budget will be burdened even further by the increased costs. To understand how, we can look to the 36 states who have already expanded their programs beyond the original intent to include able-bodied adults.
In almost every state that expanded Medicaid, enrollment spiked beyond anyone’s expectations.
For example, by 2016, our neighboring states of Arkansas and Illinois had experienced enrollment surges of 51 and 90 percent higher than projected, respectively. To make matters worse, Arkansas also endured significantly higher costs than projected under Medicaid expansion, which reached $80 million after just 18 months of operation.
History has shown that health care expenses through the Medicaid program continue to grow year after year and expansion only exacerbates the problem, further straining state budgets and further putting limited resources for the truly needy at risk.
We cannot afford to do that here in Missouri. Our program already serves our truly needy citizens — pregnant women among them. If we were to expand MO HealthNet to serve able-bodied adults, we would be putting these women directly at risk.
We must protect Medicaid resources for the most vulnerable members of society and keep costs sustainable, or it will come at the price of taxpayers and the truly needy.
Rep. Travis Fitzwater is a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, serving District 49.