Medicaid Expansion Brings Missouri to a Constitutional Crossroads
Missouri’s House Budget Committee took a historic step this week by voting down the bill that would fund Medicaid expansion. Writers across the state were quick to lambaste the legislature for “denying the will of the voters,” but there is much more to the story.
When Missourians voted on Medicaid expansion this past August, they were told the initiative would save the state billions of dollars. I wrote repeatedly at the time about how wrong those estimates would prove to be; expansion was then approved by a narrow margin.
With Medicaid expansion set to go into effect in a few months and Missouri’s Legislature now putting together next year’s budget, the true price tag for Medicaid expansion has finally come into focus. The state’s most recent estimates suggest that the first year will require more than $1.5 billion in new spending, which includes a significant portion of federal funding and a state share of approximately $100 million. Where will the legislature find these funds? Instead of searching for the money elsewhere in the budget, the House Budget Committee is questioning whether they need to fund expansion at all.
Of course, Missouri voters did approve the petition to expand Medicaid eligibility, but the issue is whether the constitutional amendment requires the legislature to come up with the funds. Our state’s constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, gives the legislature the “power of the purse”—the responsibility of authorizing all state spending. The constitution also provides that amendments cannot impose a new cost without outlining how that cost would be paid for. Unfortunately, the Medicaid expansion amendment, which will have an enormous cost, included no such funding mechanism.
The House Budget Committee’s stance is that without such a mechanism, the legislature is under no obligation to include funding for Medicaid expansion in next year’s budget. The committee’s move is just the first step of many if the legislature wants to avoid appropriating the funds necessary for expansion. But if the eventual budget does not include funding for expansion, the issue would probably be challenged in court.
While discussions on this topic are just beginning and will likely continue for the remainder of this legislative session, it’s important to recognize what’s happening here. There are legitimate constitutional questions being asked here, and despite what you may hear, this is about more than simply the politics of Medicaid expansion.