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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Democrats in the Missouri House of Representatives are warning Republicans that if the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, they’re leaving the state open for a lawsuit.

In 2020, 54% of Missouri voters approved a ballot measure calling for that expansion in a constitutional amendment.

However, at a House budget committee meeting Thursday, the Republican chair separated the Medicaid expansion issue from the rest of the budget. Then, with the vote split along party lines, Medicaid expansion was voted down.

“Honestly yesterday was on of the most frustrating days I’ve experienced among a lot of frustrating days in the house,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-Saint Louis, said.

Merideth is the ranking Democrat on the House budget committee. He said Medicaid expansion would give an additional 200,000 people access to health care, and federal money would also go to support rural hospitals.

“Every year that we wait to expand Medicaid, people die in our state for lack of health care. And meanwhile, we turn away a couple billion dollars of federal money that we’re just sending to other states for health care for their people,” Merideth said.

But Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, said his decision is based on other factors.

He said that ballot initiatives cannot appropriate dollars unless it appropriates money by creating a new revenue stream within that ballot initiative.

So, in this situation, the general assembly has the discretion on whether or not to appropriate that money, Richey said.

“You end up having to make tough decision. We’re under a microscope for obvious reasons. We cannot print money, so there is only so much money available to be spent,” Richey said of his decision to vote against Medicaid expansion.

Merideth said that decision goes against what voters asked for.

“Somebody’s going to be taking it to court and challenge us and say, ‘You have to. The constitution says so.’ And I think they’re going to win,” Merideth said.

On Tuesday, the budget will go now to the house floor where Democrats are planning to push to put the Medicaid expansion back in the regular budget. The Missouri Senate will also have the opportunity to vote on this.