FILE - MO Cole County Courthouse

The Cole County Courthouse.

(The Center Square) – Three women filed a lawsuit Thursday against the state of Missouri for being excluded from an expanded Medicaid program approved by voters last August, but not being implemented due to funding limitations by legislators. The lawsuit was filed in the 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Cole County and will be heard by Judge Jon Beetem.

The plaintiffs – Stephanie Doyle, Melinda Hille and Autumn Stultz – satisfy the requirements passed by voters – they’re between the ages 19 and 65 and earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level, according to the lawsuit. It contends “despite the clear directive from voters” to implement Medicaid expansion, the Department of Social Services, the MO HealthNet division – the current Medicaid program – and the Family Support Division declared their intent to exclude the three and 275,000 other eligible Missourians.

The agencies claim they lack the authority to implement Medicaid expansion because the General Assembly didn’t include a specific appropriations line item to fund services for the newly eligible population. A representative of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office on Friday declined comment on the lawsuit.

Gov. Mike Parson ordered the state to discontinue expansion preparations with the federal government on May 13, the day before the end of the legislative session. Parson, who never supported the program, included funds for expansion in the budget draft he sent to the legislature.

“We know every program that's ever started in this arena has done nothing but expand and cost more,” Parson said on Thursday after predicting a lawsuit. “When people talk about cost savings, you normally don't see that. A government program just keeps growing and growing. It's just a fact. But a majority of people voted for it and that's why we put it in the budget.”

Amy Blouin, president and chief executive officer of the Missouri Budget Project, said Medicaid should proceed with expansion on July 1.

“Simply put, Missouri funds the health services provided through Medicaid – it does not fund specific population groups,” Blouin said in a statement. “While next year’s state budget doesn't have a line item for Medicaid expansion (for) adults, it doesn't have line items for pregnant women, children, or people with disabilities either. Whoever is eligible for Medicaid can be enrolled and received services.”

The three plaintiffs are represented by two attorneys with a history of disagreement on government policies. Chuck Hatfield was chief of staff for former Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon and Lowell Pearson was general counsel to former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.

The defendants are Jennifer Tidball, interim director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, Kirk Mathews, director of Mo Healthnet, and Kim Evans, director of the Family Support Division.

The lawsuit was predicted by several legislators in both parties after the House of Representatives approved a $35 billion budget for fiscal year 2022, beginning June 30, 2021, without additional funding for Medicaid expansion.

The amendment to the Missouri constitution passed with 53% of the vote last August. The expansion was estimated to cost $1.9 billion with federal funding sources paying for 90%.

The three plaintiffs face serious and sometimes chronic medical challenges. The suit claims they lacked health care that “in some cases, is a question of life and death.”

Staff Reporter

Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square. After seven years of reporting for daily newspapers in Illinois and Missouri, he spent the next 30 years in public relations serving non-profit organizations and as a strategic communications consultant.