JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — With Missouri's budget prospects improving, dozens of advocates for social services and education crowded a Senate committee room Tuesday asking for more money for things such as Medicaid and college scholarships.
Medicaid expansion was the key topic during the Senate Appropriations Committee's first public hearing on Missouri's next operating budget, which begins July 1.
Social welfare advocates told the committee that expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health care law would allow at least 255,000 low-income Missourians to receive health care coverage and help hospitals stay open.
The federal health care law reduces payments to hospitals for treating the uninsured on the assumption that more people will have coverage either through private insurance or Medicaid. But because of last year's Supreme Court ruling, each state must decide whether to embrace the Medicaid expansion.
Gov. Jay Nixon has said he will include the Medicaid expansion as part of his budget proposal to be outlined Jan. 28.
Former Democratic St. Louis Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford told the panel that if Medicaid is not expanded, hospitals may be forced to close.
"Hospitals need this done ... they are in a very vulnerable situation," said Oxford, who now serves as the executive director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.
But the committee's vice-chairman, who presided during the Medicaid discussion, remained unconvinced after the hearing, saying lawmakers still don't have an accurate long-term cost estimate.