Juneteenth holiday delays Missouri Medicaid expansion trial to Monday

Case will determine whether 275,000 will be eligible for state-paid health care

By: - June 17, 2021 5:26 pm

The Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City (Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent).

The trial on whether Missouri expands Medicaid as approved by voters in 2020 has been moved to Monday because of the new Juneteenth holiday.

Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, responding to Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to close state offices in observance of the new federal holiday, moved the trial to 1 p.m. Monday from 3 p.m. Friday, attorney Chuck Hatfield said.

Just prior to receiving word of the new court time, Hatfield said Beetem had already been in contact with the parties to make sure they were available.

“The court has proposed we move to Monday and all the parties have said that is ok if he wants to do that,” Hatfield said.

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed the bill designating June 19 as a federal holiday to recognize the date in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger had the Emancipation Proclamation read in Galveston, Texas, bringing word to the enslaved Black people of that state that they were free.

Because June 19 falls on a Saturday, it is being celebrated on Friday.

The Medicaid expansion lawsuit is one of the most closely watched civil cases of the year in Missouri. The trial date was set for Friday to give Beetem time to make a ruling that could be brought to an appeals court before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

The lawsuit seeks an order for the Department of Social Services to allow 275,000 people eligible under the terms of Amendment 2, passed in August 2020, to enroll and receive the same coverage as current Medicaid clients. The amendment, passed by initiative petition, directs coverage to begin July 1.

Parson requested $1.9 billion, including about $130 million of general revenue, to cover the cost of providing coverage. Lawmakers, who debated the issue repeatedly, refused to include the funding. 

The initiative directed that Missourians ages 19 to 64 would become eligible for Medicaid coverage if their household income is below 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline, or $17,774 a year for a single person. For a household of four, the limit is $36,570.

Before passage, Missouri was one of 14 states that had not yet expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. 

The lawsuit argues there is no legal reason to treat people who become eligible July 1 differently from those who are currently eligible. 

“The DSS appropriations bill does not limit any MO HealthNet funding for coverage of particular categories of eligible individuals,” the lawsuit states. “Nothing in the DSS appropriations bill prevents the agencies from using appropriated funds to cover individuals whose eligibility arises under the constitution.”

The state is arguing that funding the expansion program was optional for lawmakers and without the funding Parson requested, the state is not obligated to provide the coverage.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.