State's Catholic bishops urge lawmakers to fund Medicaid expansion


Bishop W. Shawn Mc-Knight and his fellow Roman Catholic bishops of Missouri issued a statement April 13 calling on state lawmakers to allocate funding for the Medicaid expansion voters approved last August.

“We reiterate our support for the expansion effort and support efforts to fund this important program in FY ’22,” the bishops stated in their role as officers of the Missouri Catholic Conference.

The statement’s signatories include: Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of St. Louis; Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph; Bishop McKnight; and Bishop Edward M. Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

Medicaid is a federal program, administered through state governments, to pay for healthcare for people who have no other way to pay for it, including those whose employers do not provide healthcare, individuals certified blind or disabled, pregnant and new mothers, children and the elderly.

Last summer, the bishops supported a statewide ballot initiative to amend the state’s constitution, raising the income threshold that makes people eligible for Medicaid in Missouri. This threshold allows “the working poor,” defined as individuals and families with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, to have access to healthcare.

For childless adults, the threshold is approximately $17,770. Families’ eligibility is determined by the number of children in the household.

Some state lawmakers have balked at allocating the state’s 10-percent share of expanding Medicaid in the state because of the cost, although some studies have found Medicaid expansion to be a net gain for states.

Others have raised concerns about the money being spent to pay for abortions if Congress eliminates the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid dollars from paying for abortions.

This state law does not undo the Hyde Amendment, which is federal legislation.

Missouri’s Catholic bishops said that while funding abortion is a legitimate concern, it should not be construed so narrowly as to prevent the state from helping people who are working for low wages to receive the healthcare they need.

“We urge lawmakers to work toward legislation which protects the lives of the unborn and provides for the critical healthcare needs of the working poor,” the bishops stated April 13. “These two goods are not opposed.”

The bishops said that if the state government chooses not to pay for Medicaid expansion, it is morally obligated to create an alternative access to healthcare for the working poor.

The bishops also called on state and federal lawmakers to uphold the Hyde Amendment.

Here is the full text of the bishops’ April 13 statement:

“In the fall of 2019, we expressed our support for the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, stating ‘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.’

“We reiterate our support for the expansion effort and support efforts to fund this important program in FY ’22.

“We acknowledge legislators must use prudential judgement in their efforts to serve the human life and dignity of all. That judgment must be applied to the decision to expand Medicaid in light of pro-life concerns that have been raised.

“The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding and bipartisan pro-life rider that prevents the funding of abortion in the Medicaid program. It is critical that this good law be maintained. Threats to eliminate it have been made by some politicians, including our current U.S. president and his administration.

“However, focusing solely on the aspects of Medicaid related to abortion, as fundamental as that is to the moral principle of the dignity of all human life, reduces legislators’ work to a false dichotomy. Healthcare policy is complex and healthcare decisions involve many facets.

“A vote for or against Medicaid or Medicaid expansion should not be interpreted as a decision between being pro-life or pro-choice. We urge lawmakers to work toward legislation which protects the lives of the unborn and provides for the critical healthcare needs of the working poor. These two goods are not opposed.

“As we stated in 2019, ‘there are still many Missouri citizens who lack access to affordable healthcare coverage that is so necessary for human flourishing.’ We encourage the Missouri General Assembly to fund expansion of this program so the working poor and others who are eligible can access the healthcare they need and deserve.

“If the General Assembly chooses not to fund Medicaid expansion, we believe they have a moral obligation to provide an alternative means of providing access to healthcare for the working poor. Indeed, we are our brother’s keeper as we follow the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:42-45.

“We pray for you our legislators as you engage the virtue of prudence in your deliberations on these important issues.”