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Archbishop Carlson gives ‘unwavering support’ to Medicaid expansion

Initiative petition ‘is consistent with our commitment to life,’ archbishop writes

The Missouri bishops’ support for a ballot initiative on the expansion of MO HealthNet, the Medicaid program in the state, “is consistent with our commitment to life,” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson wrote in a statement Jan. 21.

Archbishop Carlson cited questions, concerns and speculation that surfaced about federal pro-life protections in Medicaid, secured through the Hyde Amendment. If the amendment would be overturned, Medicaid funds could be allocated for abortions.

But, the archbishop stated, “We acknowledge this concern, however with abiding trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot operate out of fear and speculation of the unknown. Our commitment to life is unwavering and lives are at stake. We must make decisions based on what we currently know to be true.”

Those facts, he said, include that, with greater access to health insurance through Medicaid, “we are saving lives and ensuring better health outcomes for our families in need.”

The risk for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment is unlikely, Archbishop Carlson added, based on its 40-plus year history and polls showing that the majority of Americans oppose public funding of abortion.

In October, the Missouri bishops issued a statement in support of the initiative to expand Medicaid in the state through their public policy agency, the Missouri Catholic Conference. The statement explained that MO HealthNet currently provides health coverage to Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, disabled, pregnant women and children.

The initiative proposes to expand Missouri’s Medicaid program to low-income workers making up to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Missouri’s Medicaid program currently covers the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and children, but only covers low-income workers making up to 22% of FPL.

If sufficient signatures are gathered, the initiative would appear on the ballot in the fall of 2020. Medicaid expansion was included as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in 2010, in order to provide coverage to low-income workers who aren’t able to afford health care insurance premiums. Since the passage of the ACA, 36 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to expand their Medicaid programs.

In Catholic ministries throughout the state, the bishops stated, “we find that there are still many Missouri citizens who lack access to affordable health care coverage that is so necessary for human flourishing. We, therefore, support expanding the program to cover low-income workers, since doing so will help lead to better health outcomes for them and enhance their ability to continue working to support themselves and their families.”

Earlier in January, the Missouri Right to Life state political action committee opposed the initiative, stating what they called a “growing danger that the Hyde Amendment will be terminated in the near future.”

Archbishop Carlson wrote that in the unlikely event that the Hyde Amendment is repealed, pro-life states such as Missouri would pursue every legal avenue to prevent public funding for abortion through the state Medicaid programs. Medicaid reimbursements, he stated, are vital to the health care delivery system, ensuring continued care to the neediest, including care provided by Catholic hospitals. Many of the Catholic hospitals provide services that are left unpaid, “putting the future of those institutions at risk,” Archbishop Carlson wrote.

The Missouri bishops’ statement also cited the unmet health care needs of the working poor of Missouri and that federal law includes pro-life protections in Medicaid through the Hyde Amendment.

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