Mo. House panel backs Medicaid legislation

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 3, 2013 at 8:14 pm •  Published: April 3, 2013
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Republican-led House committee approved a plan to expand and remake Missouri's Medicaid program Wednesday, but it may never take effect because it falls short of the demands of President Barack Obama's health care law.

The legislation would authorize a fivefold increase in Missouri's income eligibility thresholds for adults to qualify for Medicaid. Yet it would not go as far as Obama's administration has said is necessary for states to receive full federal funding for the Medicaid expansion.

The Missouri legislation contains an automatic self-destruction clause that would prevent it from taking effect if federal officials rule that it cannot qualify for the enhanced federal funding.

Nonetheless, Wednesday night's 7-2 vote by the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee marked the first time that Missouri's GOP-led Legislature has embraced anything even resembling the Medicaid expansion envisioned by the 2010 federal law. The legislation still must clear another House committee to receive debate by the full chamber.

"This bill presents an opportunity to make Missouri a leader in Medicaid reform for the entire country — to show other states how we can drive costs down and bring the savings we can achieve here nationwide," said Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City attorney who is sponsoring the Republican legislation.

The vote came on the same day that Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon took the unusual step of meeting behind closed doors with more than 100 House Republicans to discuss a Medicaid expansion. Nixon said he supports many of the market-based Medicaid proposals in the Republican plan, though he also stressed that it does not go far enough to qualify for full federal funding.

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides health coverage to lower-income residents. The program's expansion was one of the key ways that Obama planned to provide coverage for millions of Americans now lacking insurance.

At issue is a provision of the 2010 federal law that called for states to extend Medicaid coverage to adults earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level, about $27,000 annually for a family of three. States that do so can get full funding for the first three years, starting in 2014, then an amount that gradually decreases to 90 percent federal funding by 2020. A Supreme Court ruling last year made the expansion optional for states.

Missouri currently has one of the toughest adult eligibility thresholds in the nation — denying coverage, for example, to a single mother of two children who earns more than about $3,700 annually.

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