SPRINGFIELD — Organizers pushing to expand Medicaid in Missouri say they have the signatures to put their plan on the ballot this fall.
In an email provided to the News-Leader on Monday afternoon, expansion campaign manager A.J. Bockelman tells supporters that while public campaign events are canceled because of the coronavirus, “we will be able to submit the required number of valid signatures by the early May deadline.”
If the Missouri Secretary of State’s office certifies roughly 170,000 signatures as valid, the issue will be placed on the November ballot.
Under the proposal, the state-run health care program would cover anyone earning less than 138% of the federal poverty level — less than $18,000 a year for an individual or around $36,000 for a family of three — potentially extending coverage to tens of thousands of people currently ineligible.
The federal government will foot 90 percent of the bill for the expansion, and the state will have to fund the other 10 percent.
The plan made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act is designed to help Missourians who make too much to qualify for Medicaid now and too little to afford private health insurance.
Proponents say expansion will also help hospitals, especially those in rural areas, dealing with substantial numbers of uninsured patients.
Research reviewed by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates expansion is also associated with reductions in mortality rates, food insecurity, poverty and home evictions.
If voters approve the measure, Missouri would become the 37th state to expand the program, following other conservative states like Utah, Idaho and Nebraska.
The change would be enshrined in the state constitution, limiting the ability of conservative lawmakers to block or reverse the plan.
Republicans have criticized the plan as an expensive mistake.
House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said in September that expansion would "blow a sizable hole in our general revenue budget" and require cuts to education spending.
Gov. Mike Parson called the plan “a massive tax increase that Missourians cannot afford” in his State of the State address.
Some analysts disagree, though.
Last year, a report from researchers at Washington University in St. Louis suggested the expansion could save the state $932 million by 2024 and could drive down costs by helping patients address problems before they become expensive emergencies.
Another report released earlier this year by groups representing Missouri physicians, nurses and hospitals indicated costs could be offset by careful planning, too.
The official state analysis says the state government can expect an impact ranging from at least $200 million in increased costs to savings of $1 billion by 2026.