Nixon pushes Medicaid expansion for mental health services

Feb 6, 2014

Gov. Jay Nixon is reiterating his push for Medicaid reform, saying expanding the program would cover the 50,000 currently uninsured Missourians who need mental health services.

The Republican-majority state Senate voted along party lines on Wednesday to defeat the Democrats’ attempt to expand Medicaid as called for by the federal Affordable Care Act. Speaking on Thursday at the Burrell Behavioral Health Center in Columbia, Nixon says the vote shows future attempts to expand the program should include reforms to the system.

“The way to move forward is to look at ways to improve and reform the system – not merely take the system as we have and expand it," Nixon said. "So, in that sense I think that it sets out a clear marker that in order for us to move forward we’re going to have to work together, [and] use these precious Missourians' tax dollars in Missouri to improve that system.”

State Department of Mental Health Director Keith Schafer says Medicaid expansion would allow his agency to offer more than just crisis services to the uninsured. It would likely extend coverage to young adults experiencing early signs of mental illness, when proper treatment could produce significantly better outcomes.

“[The] system tends to be very focused on people who are already Medicaid eligible,” Schafer said. “The dilemma you have there is that young people who are 20-25 years old, having first break schizophrenia, for example, experiencing serious mental illness for the first time, they are not Medicaid eligible at this point in time.” 

For the past year, Republicans have refused to expand the insurance program, calling it an expensive, broken system. According to the Affordable Care Act, states will be responsible for up to 10 percent of the expansion cost, with the federal government covering the rest.

A report by the Commonwealth Foundation shows Missouri could lose more than $2.2 billion a year in federal funds if it doesn’t reform and expand Medicaid.