The Missouri bishops support Amendment 2, a measure on the Aug. 4 ballot to expand Medicaid in the state.
In a statement earlier this year, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson echoed the other bishops, saying expansion “is consistent with our commitment to life.”
The bishops’ public policy agency, the Missouri Catholic Conference, 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 ($34,846 a year for a family of four). Missouri’s Medicaid program currently only covers low-income workers making up to 22% of the poverty level ($5,764 a year for a family of four).
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 serving people in need throughout the state through ministries such as Catholic Charities agencies, 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.”
In a podcast, MCC from the Capitol, Tamara Kenny, director of advocacy and community engagement at Catholic Charities of St. Louis, and Brock Ingmire, director of state policy and advocacy for Ascension Health, offered reasons for their support of Medicaid expansion. Kenny said only Texas and Louisiana are more restrictive than Missouri when it comes to providing coverage for custodial parents.
She said Catholic Charities agencies report that health care is the biggest obstacle for people they serve. “This is the policy change that would make the biggest difference in the lives of our clients,” Kenny said, adding that a lack of health care coverage is a disincentive for people to work, especially those who depend on prescription medicine.
Ingmire said in other states that have expanded Medicaid “there’s no doubt it’s made a substantial difference,” providing relief to struggling hospitals and transforming care for patients and the community.
Medicaid expansion increases the utilization of preventative screenings and care, lowers the unnecessary utilization of the emergency departments and lowers mortality from chronic conditions, he said. It also provides an economic impact with new jobs, he said.
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.” The Hyde Amendment bar the use of federal funds to pay for abortion.
But, Archbishop Carlson said, support for banning public funding for abortion remains strong. “We acknowledge this concern, however, with abiding trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot operate out of fear and speculation of the unknown,” the archbishop said. “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.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.4% of Missouri citizens (566,000 people) were uninsured in 2018. The Missouri Catholic Conference states that they are uninsured because of the high cost of health insurance premiums, even when coverage is available through their work or on the health insurance exchange. This puts them at risk for chronic health problems and prevents early diagnosis and treatment of disease.
The Kaiser Family Foundation published research in March that looked at the effects of Medicaid expansion over a 10-year period. View the findings at bit.ly/2Zjx7Vr.
Required to help
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “concern for the health of its citizens requires society to help in the attainment of living conditions that help citizens grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance” (CCC No. 2288)
For more information about the Missouri bishops' support of Amendment 2, see the Missouri Catholic Conference resource page: mocatholic.org/resources/medicaid-resources