Missouri judge says Medicaid expansion must be allowed

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge on Tuesday ruled that Republican Gov. Mike Parson no longer can deny Medicaid health care to thousands more newly eligible adults.

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem in his order said Parson’s administration must give Medicaid coverage to newly eligible adults, despite the governor’s resistance to doing so. Beetem also ordered that newly eligible adults won’t face any additional restrictions to get health care coverage through the program.

The ruling represents a major victory for supporters of expanding Medicaid under the terms of the 2010 federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama. Missouri voters last year approved a state constitutional amendment expanding access to the government health care program to an estimated 275,000 more low-income adults, but Parson had refused to implement it because the GOP-led Legislature didn’t set aside money for it.

“With today’s court order, Medicaid eligibility is finally expanded in Missouri, as its voters mandated and its people deserve,” Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement. “There can be no more excuses and no more delays in implementation.”

Parson’s spokeswoman Kelli Jones in an email said the administration will “follow the law and will continue to look at how to operationalize the court’s order.”

Three women who were newly eligible for Medicaid sued to force Parson’s administration to give them health care access. They were vindicated last month when the Missouri Supreme Court found the voter-approved Medicaid expansion program constitutional and told the lower court to rule in their favor.

It remains unclear how the state will pay for health care for the newly eligible recipients. The Legislature may have to hold a special session to set aside more money for Medicaid. Otherwise, the state risks running out of funding for the program.

“We will continue to work with the Department of Social Services and the General Assembly to chart a path forward to enroll the expanded population and keep the MO HealthNet program solvent,” Jones said.