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Missouri senator pushing Medicaid expansion for veterans

With Republican legislative leaders declaring Medicaid expansion dead on arrival this year, Sen. Ryan Silvey is hopeful Missouri will at least be able to expand coverage for veterans.

The Kansas City Republican plans push for legislation allowing veterans and their families to qualify for Medicaid if they make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, to be eligible for Medicaid in Missouri, a non-elderly adult must have a dependent child and can earn no more than 19 percent of the poverty level, or roughly $3,700 for a single mother with two children.

Silvey has been the most vocal supporter of Medicaid expansion, a key provision of the federal health care law more commonly known as Obamacare. His main motivation, he said, is that the health care law created a coverage gap, with those earning less than 19 percent receiving Medicaid and those earning more than 138 percent receiving federal subsidies to buy insurance.

Those in between don’t qualify for assistance, and Silvey said that includes thousands of veterans and their families.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly has repeatedly balked at the idea of accepting billions of federal dollars to offer Medicaid coverage to around 300,000 uninsured Missourians. Legislative leaders have said they aren’t interested in having the debate this year, and several Republican senators have vowed to filibuster anything pertaining to Obamacare.

Silvey said he’s proposing a separate bill just for veterans and their families because he expects any effort to fully expand Medicaid to run into fierce opposition.

“I didn’t’ want to leave [veterans] high and dry when those bills get filibustered and probably die in the senate,” he said.

Dewey Riehn, legislative chairman for the Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that while many veterans may qualify for health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “there is nothing for their family.” If someone is attending college, for example, they may be able to access health care through the VA but their wife would not.

Silvey said he’s seen estimates that around 20,000 spouses would become eligible for Medicaid under his proposal. That number would be higher, he noted, when veterans themselves are added in.

While the legislation would apply to any veteran, regardless of length or type of service, Silvey said he is not clear whether it will apply to families of deceased veterans.

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