It’s hard to tell what Missouri Republican state lawmakers care less about: poor people or the will of Missouri voters. But they found a way to express their disdain for both last week when a key House committee voted to turn away more than a billion dollars in federal money meant for health care for low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities. And they did this despite Missouri voters’ approval of a ballot measure in August requiring the state to expand these services. It seems these legislators’ lack of compassion is matched only by their dereliction of duty.
For years, GOP state lawmakers’ refused to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, a bullheaded, partisan position that meant refusing millions of dollars in funding from the federal government. A majority of the state’s voters last year finally said enough, and passed a ballot initiative overriding the Legislature and approving Medicaid expansion. Yet last week, the Republican-dominated House Budget Committee blocked funding for the state’s portion of the program, effectively endangering the expansion that voters approved. All nine Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the funding.
It’s not by any stretch the first time GOP lawmakers have undermined or reversed voter-approved measures. But this one is doubly appalling because it turns down public-health funding during a still-raging pandemic, the severity of which many of those same legislators downplayed for months.
The ballot initiative that voters approved would add an additional 275,000 low-income residents to Medicaid at a time when the pandemic has pushed tens of thousands down the economic ladder, with many forced to stand in food lines for the first time. Thanks to the $1.9 trillion federal rescue package, the state only has to chip in 10% and the federal government would pay the other 90%. Yet Republican lawmakers, intent on prioritizing politics over the lives and welfare of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens voted down funding the $1.6 billion in first-year spending for the plan.
It is not hyperbole to frame this as a matter of life and death because it is exactly that for thousands of people on the brink. Missourians are facing rising health care costs, joblessness, evictions, and a general instability brought on by the pandemic. People need help. The federal government is poised to provide more than $1 billion in aid, and the only obstacles are the misplaced loyalties of a few individuals elected to follow the will of the people. If this money had been designated for one of their favored special interest groups, the money would already be flowing. But since it’s meant for the poor, the elderly and the less powerful, roadblocks abound. May history — and the voters — judge those lawmakers accordingly.