As activists flood halls for Medicaid expansion, Missouri Senate passes premium assistance for farmers

 JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Hundreds of demonstrators made their way to the Missouri Capitol on Thursday to, again, call on lawmakers to use federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls to some 300,000 low-income residents.

Missouri Republicans have remained stubbornly opposed to Medicaid expansion, part of the 2010 federal health law, citing its potential costs to the state. Under the program, Missouri would, by 2021, have to cover 10 percent of expansion, while the federal government has promised to pay for the other 90 percent.

Even as the songs and chants of protesters were slipping into the Senate chamber, lawmakers were instead debating another premium assistance program, this one for dairy farmers. A bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Reiboldt, a Republican whose family produces dairy farms in Southwest Missouri, would allow the state to cover 70 percent of insurance premiums for farmers in the federal margin protection program.

To Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican who is pushing for Medicaid expansion, the bill amounts to an “Obamacow.”

“I kinda jokingly refer to it as ‘Obamacows’ because it was the Farm Bill of 2014 that created this insurance program. Yet, what we can’t do is have or don’t seem to have a larger policy debate on providing assistance to taxpayers and individual in the state that are not going to be part of this dairy assistance. I can’t help myself but to point it out,” he said.

After earning support from the Senate, lawmakers sent the dairy bill to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk on Thursday.

The costs associated with the dairy assistance program – $4.7 million next year – are dwarfed by the potential $1 billion price tag for the state on Medicaid expansion as the program expands in the future. But, Silvey said that was not the point.

“We’re going to use state tax dollars to pay for 70 percent of a federal insurance program created by the Obama administration, for cows,” he said.

As advocates in the hallway were chanting, members of the senate delated their session on Thursday morning. This year, Medicaid expansion supporters want lawmakers to focus on the “coverage gap,” in which people make too much to get on the Medicaid rolls, but not enough to get a federal subsidy to purchase insurance in the federal exchange.

When lawmakers were inside, the activists’ message echoed through the halls. As lawmakers left the capitol on Thursday, demonstrators planned to be there too, waving their signs as lawmakers were to leave town for more than a week-long vacation.

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