Supporters of Medicaid expansion in Missouri say they have collected enough signatures to get their measure on the November ballot.

Despite pausing the campaign for the foreseeable future because of COVID-19 concerns, Healthcare for Missouri campaign manager A.J. Bockelman announced in an email to supporters this week that the group hit its target.

“Thanks to a strong and early start to voter signature collections, we will be able to submit the required number of valid signatures by the early May deadline,” Bockelman wrote in the email.

Proponents are pushing a constitutional amendment that would expand Medicaid health insurance access through Missouri’s MOHealthNet program to adults making up to 138% of the federal poverty designation.

Petitions for constitutional amendments need at least 160,199 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot, including at least 8 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election for governor in at least six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

The campaign started collecting signatures last fall, spokesman Jack Cardetti said in an email. It is not collecting signatures now, and won’t be collecting any more signatures, but it will be able to submit the required number of valid signatures before May 3, Cardetti said.

The campaign committee behind the ballot measure, had raised more than $3 million and spent more than $2.3 million according to its most recent report, filed Jan. 14. It had received $250,000 from Washington University in St. Louis, and $500,000 from the Missouri Hospital Association.

Whether Missouri should expand its Medicaid program has been a contentious issue in the state Capitol since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, and numerous efforts to expand it through the legislature have failed.

Proponents argue it would give more people access to affordable health insurance, bring in more federal money for the state, and protect the precarious finances of Missouri’s rural hospitals, of which seven have closed since 2014. Opponents argue the program is inefficient, and that expansion would cost the state money that would have to be taken away from other priorities, such education, and that the federal government could eventually shift more of its commitment to the state.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in his State of the State address in January said that Medicaid expansion is “a massive tax increase that Missourians cannot afford," and later said that expanding Medicaid eligibility would mean taking money away from education, workforce development, and roads and bridges in order to pay for health care for more people.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Gina Walsh said earlier this year, “We’re hurting Missouri’s children and families by not pursuing expansion of Medicaid,” and its advocates say Medicaid expansion could produce savings for the state.

Missouri is among 14 states that has decided against expanding eligibility.

In Missouri, Medicaid is still mainly available to people with disabilities, seniors, children and their parents, with incomes up to 122 percent of the poverty designation. 

The amendment would also prohibit work requirements for Medicare recipients, which some Republican lawmakers have advocated. State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, proposed a constitutional amendment that would impose work requirements for some Medicaid recipients who are able to work.

That proposal sped through Senate committees in January, but has not been brought up for debate. With coronavirus disrupting the legislative session, it’s unclear if the Legislature could put Sater’s proposal on the November ballot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.