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Health & Wealth

Missouri Officials Tell Judge It'll Take Two Months To Implement Medicaid Expansion

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Sebastián Martínez Valdivia
/
KBIA
Supporters of Medicaid expansion hold signs at a rally outside of the state capitol in Jefferson City on April 27, 2021.

The Missouri Department of Social Services will need two months to fully implement Medicaid expansion. That's what state Solicitor General John Sauer told a Cole County Circuit Judge in court Friday. Sauer said the state needs time to prepare the necessary computer systems to process applications with expanded eligibility.

Friday's hearing came just over two weeks after the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Medicaid expansion was constitutional. The court then sent the case back down to Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, who is now charged with deciding how the state will proceed.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, representing three plaintiffs who would be eligible for Medicaid coverage under expansion, urged Beetem to prevent the state from denying applications for coverage. Speaking to the press after the hearing, Hatfield said, "We don’t think they’re entitled to another two months of not complying with the law." He also questioned the state's timeframe for compliance. "They were working on this, they say, through May," Hatfield said. "They were six weeks from implementation."

Representing the Department of Social Services, Sauer asked the judge to hear testimony from the officials tasked with running the state's Medicaid programs. "The department very much wants the opportunity to make an evidentiary record before the court enters a final judgment," Sauer said. He asked Beetem to hear testimony from two witnesses from the Family Services Division of the Department of Social Services, and from MO HealthNet, which manages Medicaid in Missouri.

Hatfield said he suspected the state's estimate was overly inflated. "In my experience ... if you get five bureaucrats in a room and you ask them how long something's going to take, they're going to settle on whatever the longest time one of them comes up with," Hatfield said.

Beetem will now have to decide whether to issue an order to the state directing it in some way to implement Medicaid expansion, or to hold another hearing, as Sauer requested.