KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Low-income Missouri residents who now qualify for Medicaid under a voter-approved expansion will have to wait until July 2021 for the program to go into effect.
Missouri legislators and various state agencies are just starting to lay the groundwork to implement the new guidelines.
Nika Cotton, the owner of Soulcentricitea, a new tea and coffee shop at 1106 E. 30th St. in Kansas City, Missouri, is planning to sign up as soon as possible.
"So I have hot coffee, ice coffee, espresso. I have 54 different flavors of loose leaf tea," Cotton said.
Along with tea and coffee, Cotton has nerves of steel. She opened her new business last month, in the heart of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
"I'm thinking, 'My dream does not know it's a pandemic.' It's actually kind of a good opportunity to serve tea. Herbal tea especially... has a lot of really calming benefits for people," Cotton said.
Before the Pandemic, she was a social worker, but when COVID-19 hit, she changed careers,
"I had just left my job because I have two elementary-age school children and did not have child care for them," she said.
Cotton gained a new business but lost her health insurance.
She said she's excited that with Medicaid expansion in Missouri she'll qualify to get health care.
"I'm working a lot of hours. I really want to see my primary care physician and have my health taken care of while I build my business," Cotton said.
On Aug. 4, Missouri voters said "yes" to increasing the income to qualify for Medicaid in Missouri.
According to the new guidelines, single people can earn up to $18,000 a year, and families of three now qualify with an annual income of approximately $36,000 to $38,000.
Raising the minimum income level is estimated to make 250,000 additional Missourians with low incomes eligible for Medicaid.
But the communications director for the Missouri Department of Social Services, Rebecca Woelfel, said that the Medicaid guidelines will not change until July 2021, when the new amendment to the Missouri Constitution takes effect.
"We will begin engaging in the coming weeks with state departments responsible for Medicaid and legislative budget leaders to review implementation options," Woelfel said.
Woelfel shared numbers from the June Missouri House Budget Committee meeting which indicate that the impact of the expansion on next year's budget will be substantial, in the neighborhood of $2 billion overall.
However, supporters of expanded Medicaid said the federal government will return $1 billion to Missouri and extra costs will be minimized through consolidation and matching grants.
Cotton said she can relax knowing that her 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter already have health insurance through the state Medicaid program.
In a year, she hopes her tea business, Soulcentricitea will soar and she'll get her own private health insurance.
"I would like to be able to afford to pay for private health insurance. That's the ideal, is that I'll get to a place where I'll have the income that I'll be able to budget that in every month," Cotton said.
If not, Cotton said she'll be signing up next year for the newly expanded Medicaid in Missouri.