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Wednesday’s decision by a Cole County judge ruling a voter-approved initiative expanding Medicaid unconstitutional is deeply disappointing.

Under the initiative known as Amendment 2, which was approved with about 53% of the vote last August, approximately 275,000 additional adults were to become eligible for Medicaid under an expansion beginning July 1.

But lawmakers this spring didn’t budget for funding the expansion, and the governor (who had included the funds in his budget draft) ultimately withdrew the state’s expansion plans from consideration.

Three people who would become eligible for Medicaid under the expansion sued.

In issuing his ruling in that lawsuit on Wednesday, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem wrote that the voter-approved amendment unconstitutionally sought to force lawmakers to set aside money for the expansion. Under the Missouri Constitution, lawmakers can’t be forced to make appropriations unless the ballot measure includes a funding mechanism.

We can respect what the law and the state constitution dictate, but this decision still stings.

For one thing, 275,000 people who were counting on being able to enroll in this health care program in just a week now may be left in the lurch. Access to health care is not just a necessity, but it should be a right. Expanding that access for Missouri residents could literally save lives.

For another thing, Missouri voters spoke — and they want Medicaid to be expanded. Even if the mechanism for doing so in this instance, with this particular initiative petition, is not constitutional, lawmakers would be wise to realize that their constituents want this, and they would be wise to proceed with expansion in a way that is constitutionally acceptable. They have that power, and they should use it.

At any rate, this story isn’t yet over. The plaintiffs’ attorneys have vowed to appeal. Perhaps a better outcome still will come.

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