Leaders of the Republican-controlled Missouri House have joined the court battle over their refusal to expand Medicaid to 275,000 low-income people.
In a brief filed this week, the House called on the Missouri Supreme Court to uphold a decision last month by a Cole County judge striking down a citizen-led effort to expand the government-run health insurance program for the poor.
The judge, Jon Beetem, said the results of the August 2020 referendum violated the Missouri Constitution because the original ballot wording did not include a way to pay for the additional enrollees.
Three women who would become eligible for health insurance under the expansion are suing the state after the Legislature and Republican Gov. Mike Parson failed to earmark money to pay for the expanded program.
The Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments in the lawsuit Tuesday.
The House brief pushes back against expansion supporters, who say the expansion could move forward even though additional money wasn't placed in the state's spending plan.
The brief, written by former Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, said the budget approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor clearly says expansion is not funded.
"Dollar amounts in an appropriations bill mean something. They are not randomly drawn from a hat," the brief notes.
In addition, the brief warns the court that it should be wary of forcing another branch of government to spend money.
"The bigger problem, from the perspective of separation of powers, is that plaintiffs invite this court to order the political branches, in perhaps unprecedented fashion, to appropriate money," the brief notes.
Democrats who favor expansion have raised concerns about the decision by House leaders to file the brief, saying the act should have been voted on by the full chamber.
"For the House to take an official position on anything requires a majority vote of its elected members, and there has been no vote on a resolution authorizing involvement in this case. Republican leadership's attempt to misrepresent the House's position before Missouri's highest court demonstrates contempt for another branch of government, and the court should disregard it," said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield.
"I don't remember voting on, or even discussing, an Amicus brief, and I am not aware of any rule authorizing any member to file such brief on behalf of the whole House," said Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, in a Twitter post.
The legal wrangling comes after 53% of voters decided that the state's MO HealthNet program should cover adults between the ages of 19 and 65 with incomes below 138% of the poverty level.
The cost of expanding the program is estimated to be over $1 billion, though all but about $130 million would be paid for by the federal government.
"We HAVE THE MONEY to expand Medicaid. We will have this money next year as well. But instead of using it to make people's lives better, the legislature has gone to court to defend their ability not to spend what we have to make our people's lives better," Unsicker said on Twitter.
A number of groups have lined up in support of the expansion, with a coalition of business and health care organizations filing friend-of-the-court briefs with the high court.
The decision to nix funding has triggered protests, with one happening outside the Governor's Mansion on July 1, the day the expansion was supposed to begin.
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