JEFFERSON CITY – The petition drive to provide health care to more Missourians received a boost from civic and business groups on the Kansas City side of the state.
Among reasons the groups cited for their support are to provide health care to more people, including the working poor; to bring jobs and hundreds of millions of federal dollars annually to the state; and to prevent more rural hospitals from closing.
The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Kansas City and the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City joined a statewide coalition of businesses, hospitals, medical organizations, civic and charitable groups, and everyday Missourians who support the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative.
“Our endorsement should not come as a surprise,” chamber board Chairwoman Carolyn Watley said.
More than 500,000 Missourians lack health insurance, she said, including people who have jobs.
“They make too much for public assistance and too little for health care,” Watley told about 30 people gathered at Union Station last week. “Expansion will help close this gap.”
Civic Council Chairman Bill Gautreaux, United Way President Brent Stewart and Watley cited studies that suggest Missouri Medicaid expansion would improve, rather than hurt, Missouri’s economy.
Gov. Mike Parson showed little interest in Medicaid studies during remarks made Jan. 30 at the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City.
“We can all go out there and do a study,” he said. “There’s different sources you can get data (from) if you want to be on one side. … If you’re on the other side, somebody’s going to give you data.”
Based on Parson’s comment, this newspaper asked whether his position affects the petition process. Healthcare for Missouri spokesman Jack Cardetti said Parson’s position is that, if voters pass the issue, then the state would expand Medicaid.
“(Missourians) know this is going to have a positive impact on their families, on their communities,” Cardetti said. “So, while there’ll be lots of debate in Jeff City, that’s not what we’re focused on.”
Another question focused on whether the 90% match of federal funds to 10% state funds might be rescinded by Washington at some point, leaving the state to pay more of the cost.
If the petition drive puts the issue on the ballot, and if voters provide approval, then Missouri would be the 37th state to extend Medicaid, which would show this state is not alone in trusting the government to maintain the match, Health Forward Foundation President and CEO Quiana Thomason said.
This newspaper asked whether there is any more reason to think Washington would walk away from the health care commitment than from the long-existing commitment to match highway funding.
“We have some of the poorest health outcomes in our country. I think there’s an opportunity here that our federal government recognizes, and will continue to invest in tangibly,” Thomason said.
Cardetti said Missouri’s refusal to expand Medicaid has cost the state more than $1 billion in revenue annually.
“That’s a fact,” he said.
Expansion has statewide backing, Cardetti said.
“We know that there’s broad-based support among rural communities, because they’re seeing their health care (facilities) close,” he said, adding, “Since 2014 ... rural hospitals across Missouri have shut down and the best thing we can do to make sure that our health care system and our hospitals are healthy is to expand Medicaid.”
When a community’s hospital closes, people who suffer from strokes, heart attacks and other emergency medical situations may have to drive for an hour to reach a hospital, Cardetti said.
“That literally could be the difference between life and death,” he said.
Medicaid expansion would provide money that keeps hospitals operating, Cardetti said. Hospitals in states that have expanded Medicaid do better than hospitals in states that have not, he said.
“There is no question that the financial state of Missouri hospitals right now is not as good as it could be,” Cardetti said.
“Rural hospitals in Missouri and across the country are in a state of crisis,” Stewart said. “Without Medicaid expansion, access to lifesaving care in rural Missouri is only going to continue to decline, if not disappear.”
States that have passed Medicaid expansion include Missouri’s neighbors: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Nebraska. Expansion efforts are underway in neighboring Kansas and Oklahoma.
“Investing in the health of Missourians will enable our state to also come out ahead financially,” Gautreaux said, “by synchronizing the new opportunities expansion can create with a strategic realignment in policy and operational adjustments.”
Medicaid expansion in Missouri would help provide health coverage to more than 230,000 uninsured adults in the state by extending eligibility to individuals earning less than $18,000 a year. The uninsured include 50,000 parents and 18,000 near retirees.
If passed, work to start implementation would start in spring 2021, as required by the ballot initiative, Cardetti said. A bit of savings would occur in the first and second years, he said.
“But, over time, that’s really going to make a (financial) difference,” Cardetti said.
So far, the petition drive to put the measure on the ballot has passed the 75% mark. The campaign needs 172,000 valid signatures.
The group has until May 3 to provide the Secretary of State’s Office with completed petitions to get the issue on the ballot.
“We are ahead of goal,” Thomason said.