JEFFERSON CITY — Advocates for the mentally and physically ill urged lawmakers to expand access to Medicaid as a Senate panel began taking public testimony Tuesday on ways to improve the government-funded health care program.
The plea to expand adult eligibility for Medicaid was a familiar one — embraced by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon but repeatedly rejected by the Republican-led General Assembly during its annual session that ended in May.
Republicans on the Senate Interim Committee on Medicaid Transformation and Reform stressed Tuesday that they were looking for ways to make the Medicaid program better, not necessarily larger.
But some of those testifying ranked a Medicaid expansion among the most necessary improvements because it would decrease the number of uninsured and thus could reduce the tendency of medical providers to shift costs to insured patients.
“By increasing access to preventative care for all Missourians, the end result should be lower costs for care across all sectors,” said Todd Richardson of the South Central Missouri Community Action Agency, which aids low-income families.
The Senate panel is one of three special committees looking into Medicaid changes that could be considered during the 2014 session. A committee composed of 36 citizens and 14 House members is to hold its first hearing Wednesday in Independence. A separate House committee is to meet later this year to consider the findings of the 50-person panel.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states can receive full federal funding through 2016 if they expand adult Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the poverty level, which equals more than $15,850 annually for an individual or about $32,500 for a family of four. Starting in 2017, states must pay a 5 percent share that gradually increases to 10 percent by 2020.
Missouri’s Medicaid program now covers custodial parents earning up to 19 percent of the poverty level, or about $4,475 annually, and doesn’t cover adults without children in their homes. Missouri’s Medicaid eligibility for children extends up to three times the poverty level, which equates to $70,650 annually for a family of four.
Erin Brower of the Kansas City-based Partnership for Children said tens of thousands of eligible children still do not have coverage. She said parents would be more likely to enroll them in Medicaid if the parents also qualified.
Also speaking for expansion were representatives of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Joanie Gillam of the Disabled Citizen Alliance for Independence in Viburnum, Mo., said Medicaid eligibility also should be expanded for disabled residents. She said Missouri’s asset limits are so low that they prevent many disabled Medicaid recipients from keeping enough money in the bank to make emergency repairs to their homes or vehicles.