Barbara Shelly

Childish behavior sinks Medicaid meeting in Jefferson City. Who’s to blame?

Come play at my place.

No, you come to my place!

Sorry, Missourians, but this is your elected leadership in Jefferson City — squabbling over where a meeting will take place.

Hopes were never very high for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s suggested powwow on health issues. Nixon wants to expand Medicaid eligibility. Republicans who control the legislature are split between those who want to “transform” Medicaid, while adding more low-income Missourians in the process; and those who are opposed to making the program any larger.

Still, there was always the chance an encounter might result in a thoughtful discussion, perhaps even some common ground. And since Republicans always complain that the governor never communicates with them, you’d think they might welcome the offer.

Well, no.

On Wednesday, Republicans who are heading up special Medicaid study committees told Nixon they would accept his invitation to meet Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., but not at his suggested location, the Governor’s Office Building in Jefferson City.

Instead, Rep. Jay Barnes and Sen. Gary Romine said Nixon would have to report to the Capitol and testify as a witness during a formal legislative committee meeting.

That sounds suspiciously like a ploy to put the governor on the hot seat. Not surprisingly, Nixon declined.

Nixon replied to the legislators, noting that he and cabinet members had all cleared their schedules in anticipation of the meeting.

“Given the assurances my office received in good faith from you on the form and content of the meeting, I can only conclude that this last-minute change of heart demonstrates that, as we saw last session, you and your leadership have chosen to give politics precedence over the substance of the discussion,” he said in a statement.

That’s pretty much what it looks like. Legislators, who basically exist in a self-important bubble, need to know that Missourians really don’t care where they meet, or whether the format is a formal committee meeting or an informational exchange of ideas. But Missourians did make it known during a series of public hearings over the summer that they’d like their elected leaders to take an honest look at expanding Medicaid.

As it is, adults who make more than 18 percent of the poverty level — about $4,000 a year for a family of four — can’t qualify for the program. People above that level, who mostly work at low-paying jobs which don’t offer health benefits, are left in the cold.

The rebuff from Barnes and Romine speaks to the level of distrust between Nixon and legislative Republicans. For that, there is plenty of blame to go around — and plenty of reason to be pessimistic about getting anything done in the upcoming session.

But the blame for the upended meeting lies with Barnes and Romine. Their demands are unreasonable and childish.