OPINION

Enough political mischief: Legislators must do their jobs

The Examiner

The Missouri House of Representatives is flat wrong – wrong on policy, wrong legally – in its continued intransigence on extending Medicaid coverage to about 275,000 who lack health insurance.

The House has forwarded to the state Senate a budget that simply doesn’t fund the expansion. The voters took that decision out of legislators’ hands last year when they wrote Medicaid expansion into the state Constitution. That’s it. That’s the law.

This vote of the people came after years of frustration over Jefferson City’s refusal to act or even acknowledge the idea that people who work in low-income jobs with few or no benefits need health care. They and everyone else in Missouri have, for more than a decade, paid federal taxes returned to states to support and expand Medicaid coverage. But Missourians’ share of those taxes has gone to Illinois, Vermont, Oregon and dozens of other states rather than coming back here.

Gov. Mike Parson opposed Medicaid expansion when it was on the ballot last year but said he would abide by the will of the people. This year he submitted a budget that includes expanded Medicaid and in doing so abandoned the claim that the state cannot afford it.

The state has to tap into general revenues to free up roughly 10 times as much in federal money to pay for expansion. Also, the state for years has left other federal money on the table because of its limited Medicaid services. Now that money would come in. All in all, the state comes out ahead.

A decade ago, in this space, we were sympathetic to the argument that Congress promises large matching funds for this or that program but over time whittles that money away, leaving state taxpayers on the hook. But that has not happened here. Missouri is out of excuses.

So the Missouri House is back where it always was. This isn’t about affordability or the other excuses that have been trotted out. This is about legislators just not wanting to do it. One went so far as to say he was proud to oppose the will of the people. Another said Missourians voted for it but her constituents didn’t, strongly implying that the vote was therefore invalid. Here’s a reminder: The votes in Jackson County count as much as anyone else’s.

Petulance and stubbornness are not virtues, and they are destructive when it comes to the job of governing – the job each legislator asked for. 

There is some thought that the Senate will lift this issue out of the House’s political theater. We’ll see. There’s already an indication that Medicaid will get bogged down in the Senate in the politics of birth control and abortion. Our legislators are too readily content with excuses for failure instead of doing the work to find a path to success.

Legislators are in session for a little more than one more month, and needless drama over a policy the voters already set looks likely to crowd out action on many other issues that also deserve attention.