JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday he would expand Medicaid if that’s what Missourians want, even though he has indicated he won’t support a ballot measure to grow the program.
“If the people of the state of Missouri — that is their will and they vote to do that — that’s what I’m supposed to do is uphold the will of the people of this state, and that’s what I intend to do regardless of whether I agree with the issue or whether I don’t,” Parson told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday.
In pitching her candidacy for governor, Auditor Nicole Galloway told fellow Democrats at a forum in St. Louis on Saturday that she was the only candidate who could be trusted to put Medicaid expansion into effect.
“I believe that if it makes it to the ballot, it will pass,” Galloway said. “I also believe that if voters say they want Medicaid expansion, our current governor will not implement it.”
Parson’s retort Tuesday?
“I don’t know that I ever talked to the auditor about that. I don’t think she’s ever asked for my opinion — what I would do.”
He answered the question during a news conference at the Missouri secretary of state’s office, where he filed paperwork for President Donald Trump to run on the state’s March 10 presidential primary ballot.
Referring to Congress’ impeachment proceedings, Parson said of Galloway: “She sounds like a lot of these people in Washington, D.C., at these hearings that are going on up there.”
Galloway and her campaign have cited Parson’s opposition to redistricting changes contained in last year’s Amendment 1, his shepherding of legislation altering voter-approved rules on dog breeders, and his office’s exploration of local “right to work” laws as examples of Parson’s discomfort with voter referendums.
Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the option to expand Medicaid to people earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $18,000 per year for individuals. Fourteen states, including Missouri, have not done so.
Healthcare for Missouri, the campaign backing expansion, estimates 200,000 Missourians could gain insurance coverage under expansion of the public health insurance program.
The campaign said this month it had collected roughly a quarter of the signatures necessary to place the measure on the November 2020 ballot. Starting next year, the federal government will pay 90% of the costs of expansion while states will be responsible for 10%.
Parson on Tuesday argued the state needed to slow the growth of current Medicaid costs before discussing expansion. The state carved out roughly $11 billion for the program in this year’s budget, which represents about a third of the state’s $30 billion annual spending plan.
Parson said expansion could mean less state support for education and infrastructure, though proponents argue savings through expansion would exceed costs.
In the four GOP-led states where voters have approved Medicaid expansion, political acrimony has followed, according to an analysis of state Medicaid expansion efforts by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Maine voters in November 2017 approved Medicaid expansion. Maine’s then-Republican Gov. Paul LePage, hours after the vote, said he would not implement the expansion until the Legislature fully funded the program.
The standoff ended in January when LePage left office, replaced by Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat who directed state health officials to begin implementation on her first day in office.
In Nebraska, after voters approved expansion in November 2018, the state submitted a plan that would delay implementation until Oct. 1, 2020. The campaign that supported expansion sued, arguing the delay violated the terms of the expansion.
In Idaho and Utah, state officials have moved to limit who is eligible for coverage, curbing the effect of expansions approved by voters in November 2018.