COLE COUNTY − A lawsuit that could expand healthcare coverage for over 200,000 Missourians was in court for the first time Monday afternoon.
The trial comes the state legislature failed to fund Medicaid expansion, which nearly 54% of voters approved in August 2020. Governor Mike Parson formally withdrew the plans on May 13. His budget originally included the expansion.
Three Missouri residents, who are single mothers and would be covered under the expansion starting July 1, sued the state over the failure. According to online court records, the plaintiffs come from Fenton, St. Louis and Springfield.
The Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) and its divisions MOHealthNet and Family Support, and three people who run those two divisions are included as defendants in the case.
Circuit Judge Jon Beetem heard arguments for both sides on Monday. Judge Beetem said he expects to have a ruling "within a day or two."
The state argued the legislature did not approve any sort of money to pay for expansion costs and that the legislature specifically rejected funding the "expansion population."
Chuck Hatfield, the attorney who represents the three plaintiffs, argued that the state has money to pay for expansion, regardless if lawmakers passed funding or not.
MU Associate Professor of Law Thomas Bennett told KOMU 8 the biggest takeaway from Monday is that the two sides agreed that the plaintiffs are indeed eligible for Medicaid under the Missouri constitution, but they disagree whether or not they have the money.
"The plaintiffs say the judge should look at just the text of the statue," Bennett explained. "The government says the judge should look at the circumstances surrounding the passage of this year's appropriations bill, so that is really what the case is going to be all about. Should it just be about the text of the statute, or should it be about the circumstances?"
Voters approved the constitutional amendment in August 2020. The amendment would expand MO HealthNet eligibility to people between 100% and 138% of the federal poverty line. Over 270,000 Missourians will become eligible on July 1, or those individuals making $17,236 a year and a family of three making $28,676.
DSS estimated the expansion would cost $1.9 billion in that fiscal year. The federal government would cover 90% of the costs and the state would cover the other 10%.