Missourians eligible for Medicaid benefits under expansion can now apply

Galen Bacharier
Springfield News-Leader
A sample version of the renewal notice sent to Missouri Medicaid recipients to verify their eligibility this past year.

Missourians who qualify for Medicaid benefits and services under the program's expansion can now begin applying, Gov. Mike Parson's office said Wednesday.

The announcement comes the day after a Cole County circuit judge ruled that the state could not deny or restrict those eligible under the Missouri constitution, following the orders of a unanimous state Supreme Court decision.

"My administration is always going to follow the law and yesterday's court order is no exception," Parson said.

Under expansion of MO HealthNet, the state's low-income health care program, Missourians ages 19-65 earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line — less than $17,774 annually per individual or $37,570 for a four-person family — are now eligible. Those seeking to apply can do so on the Department of Social Services' website, myDSS.mo.gov.

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The department still has "administrative hurdles" to overcome, the governor's office said, the primary one being money.

The state legislature did not include funding for the expanded population in the annual budget it delivered to Parson earlier this year. The department will move forward on expansion regardless, Parson's office said.

"We will continue to work with the General Assembly and DSS to chart a path forward to comply with the court order and keep the MO HealthNet program solvent," Parson said.

That path could include the dilution of the Medicaid money pool, resulting in those eligible receiving less money each, or calling a special session to add money to the annual state budget. Several Democrats have called for the latter, arguing that the state's budget surplus means the money exists to fully fund expansion.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Missouri pays for ten percent of the state's Medicaid funding; 90 percent is paid for with federal government dollars.

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The department is also facing limited staffing, according to the governor's office, and will re-assign employees from other roles to process MO HealthNet applications "until the necessary funds can be appropriated."

DSS will also need to update its technology and software to account for expansion — which the department estimates could take up to two months. Any medical costs racked up by those eligible for the program between their application and when they're officially enrolled "may be reimbursed at a later date," according to Parson's office.

In a trial court hearing last week, Solicitor General John Sauer asked for more time for the state to prepare for enrollment — up to two months — and to hold another hearing in the future.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, representing three women suing the state, said the state should not be "entitled to another two months of not complying with the law." The months between the amendment passing in August 2020 and the final budget being delivered to Parson earlier this year, he argued, provided plenty of time for the state to have prepared.

House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, accused Parson and the state of "slow-walking" the process in a Wednesday statement.

"Medicaid expansion has prevailed both at the ballot box and in the courts," Quade said. "No more excuses. No more delays. The administration has a constitutional duty to do whatever it takes to enroll the expanded population immediately."

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at gbacharier@news-leader.com, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.