State’s Catholic bishops seeking support for Medicaid expansion


Missouri’s Roman Catholic bishops are encouraging voters to support a specific effort to expand eligibility for MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid program.

Medicaid, funded by the federal and state governments, helps pay for healthcare for people with very low income.

“We support expanding (MO HealthNet) 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,” the bishops said in a statement released Oct. 16.

Missouri currently restricts access to Medicaid to people earning up to 22 percent of the federal poverty level. That amounts to $5,665 per year for a family of four. 

A group called Healthcare for Missouri ( is collecting signatures for an initiative petition (No. 2020-063) to place a constitutional amendment onto a statewide ballot next fall.

If passed by in the November 2020 election, the amendment would require the state to expand Medicaid eligibility to people earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That amounts to $34,247.50 per year for a family of four.

The bishops noted that MO HealthNet currently provides health coverage to the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, and children.

“It plays a vital role in sustaining the healthcare delivery system in our state,” the bishops stated.

But because of the tight income restrictions, many Missouri citizens, including some who work two or more jobs in order to support their families, still lack access to affordable healthcare coverage.

“We encourage Catholics and others of goodwill to give serious consideration to supporting this effort to expand the Missouri Medicaid program,” the bishops declared.

Medicaid expansion was included as part of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in 2010, in order to provide coverage to low-income workers who aren’t able to afford healthcare insurance premiums.

Part of the money to pay for that expansion was to come from a reduction in the amount of federal money hospitals receive to help patients who cannot afford treatment.

Much of that money goes toward covering Emergency Room visits, which are an expensive and inefficient way to receive healthcare.

Since passage of the ACA, 36 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to expand their Medicaid programs.

Numerous attempts to expand Medicaid in the Missouri General Assembly have failed, mostly due to the projected cost.

The bishops believe promoting better health and productivity will help offset the cost of expanding Medicaid.

They acknowledged in their statement that some people do not agree with expanding Medicaid by way of a constitutional amendment or in a manner that bypasses the state legislative process.

Nonetheless, they said, “we offer our support for this effort because of the unmet healthcare needs of the working poor and to ensure the continued delivery of care to those who need it most through the Missouri healthcare system, including Missouri’s Catholic hospitals.”

The bishops said their support comes with the understanding that current federal law includes pro-life protections in Medicaid through the Hyde Amendment.

The bishops offered this guidance in their role as the board of directors of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), public-policy agency for the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses.

Federal law allows churches and other nonprofit organizations to take positions on issues without promoting political candidates or parties.

The MCC said it’s up to parishes in the state to decide whether to allow people to collect signatures on parish property for this initiative.

“We would ask that if you do allow it, please be sure the ballot language does NOT include language mandating coverage for contraception and funding for Planned Parenthood, as an earlier petition for Medicaid expansion (No. 2020-027) included such language,” said Deacon Tyler McClay, MCC executive director and general counsel.

The bishops’ statement is signed by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, executive chairman of the MCC; Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MCC vice chairman; Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, MCC general chairman; and Bishop Edward M. Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

For more information from the MCC about Missouri’s Medicaid program, go to: