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Medicaid expansion lawsuit heads to Missouri Supreme Court

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After a Cole County judge ruled in favor of the state’s argument against expanding Medicaid coverage last week, the issue is now on its way to Missouri’s highest court.

The Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments against the state on July 13, according to attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents the plaintiffs. 

Hatfield and Solicitor General D. John Sauer, who argued the case for the state, outlined their arguments before the Cole County Circuit Court last week. Judge Jon Beetem sided with Sauer, writing the constitutional amendment had not been “validly enacted” and pointing to the lack of a designated funding mechanism in the language. 

Hatfield and partner Lowell Pearson immediately appealed the decision. Because Beetem found the amendment itself and not the funding to be unconstitutional, the issue can go straight to the Supreme Court, according to Hatfield

“There’s money that has been appropriated for Medicaid services. Once that’s done, those folks are eligible under the constitution,” Hatfield told reporters following last week’s hearing. “There’s no expansion population: We had an election about that, we voted to amend the constitution. … There is no such thing as the expansion population or the preexisting population, there is just Medicaid coverage, and our plaintiffs are in that group.”

While Hatfield argued in court that the legislature was attempting to alter eligibility for the program through statute rather than a constitutional amendment, Sauer said the text of this year’s appropriation bills made it clear that the money appropriated by the General Assembly only applied to those who were already covered under Medicaid. 

The suit against the Department of Social Services (DSS), Acting Director Jennifer Tidball, and the MO HealthNet Division, among others, was filed last month on behalf of three single mothers who would be covered under the expansion. The lawsuit asked the court to find the lack of funding for the expansion unlawful and sought an injunction to allow the plaintiffs and others who would be eligible to enroll and receive the same treatment as those already covered under the program.

Missourians voted to become the 38th state to expand its Medicaid program last August, moving to cover more than 270,000 people who earn less than $18,000 a year. Despite several attempts, the legislature did not approve a dedicated fund before passing its budget.

The expansion was slated to take effect July 1.