At a time when access to healthcare is needed more than ever, a group of Missouri doctors and Medicaid expansion advocates on Friday submitted more than twice as many signatures from Missourians as required to put the initiative directly before voters in November.
If approved, Medicaid expansion will help keep rural hospitals open, deliver billions in economic stimulus, and help hundreds of thousands of hardworking Missourians, who have jobs that don’t come with insurance, get access to life-saving care.
That includes Missourians on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak, working essential, low-wage jobs in grocery stores, as delivery drivers, in nursing homes, hospitals and elsewhere.
They and others who would benefit fall into what is known as a coverage gap, often earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance.
An estimated 230,000 state residents would benefit from expansion, with eligibility for individuals limited to those earning less than $18,000 a year.
Thanks to a strong, early start in fall 2019, the Healthcare for Missouri campaign and its volunteers were able to collect voter signatures before the coronavirus outbreak shut down public life in March, submitting to the Secretary of State’s Office petitions signed by nearly 350,000 Missourians. Roughly 172,000 verified and validated voter signatures are required to qualify for the November general election ballot.
“The need for Medicaid expansion was apparent before the outbreak and only becomes more critical as the pandemic continues. It’s time to help the workers hit hardest by this crisis and bring billions of our tax dollars home to create jobs once this outbreak is under control,” said campaign manager A.J. Bockelman.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the campaign relied on a small contingent to turn in the nearly 300 boxes of petitions safely while maintaining social distancing, and did not invite volunteers to Jefferson City, Bockelman added.
Medicaid expansion leads to more financially stable homes by reducing medical debt, medical bankruptcies and the need to borrow money to pay household bills. Studies show that when parents have insurance, their children are more likely to as well.
“This truly can be a game-changer for my family and others like me facing a lack of healthcare coverage for ourselves and our loved ones,” said Victoria Altic, a Springfield mother in the coverage gap. “We need to change this, and I say this not just for my own family. We are already facing stress and financial hardship, and now with this COVID-19 pandemic, our anxiety is at an all-time high. The opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage can save lives.”
Qiana Thomason, president and CEO of Health Forward Foundation, a Kansas City-based nonprofit, called Missouri Medicaid expansion “a critical step in removing barriers to access to public healthcare.”
“COVID-19 has shown that the virus does not discriminate in who becomes infected, regardless of one’s socioeconomic status,” she said. “For that reason alone, health and wellness must be a priority for those most in need. No disparities must remain for mental and physical health and our organization stands with Healthcare for Missouri.”
The expansion of Medicaid in Missouri would also help counter the dearth of healthcare in rural Missouri. Ten rural hospitals in the state have closed in recent years according to the Missouri Hospital Association, giving our state one of the country’s highest such closure rates.
“Over the last several years, several rural hospitals in Missouri have shut their doors and forced residents to travel further distances to receive the proper medical care. In some cases, patients wait until it becomes a life or death situation before seeking emergency care,” said Todd Ahrens, CEO of Hannibal Regional Hospital. “Now with the spread of COVID-19, medical facilities throughout Missouri could face a surge of patients who need care, and in some cases, those patients may not have health insurance. Now, more than ever, uninsured patients in Missouri need Medicaid expansion.”
As literally hundreds of research studies of Medicaid expansion in other states show, Medicaid expansion also makes strong fiscal sense.
One such research study at Washington University in St. Louis shows that Medicaid expansion would save Missouri more than $1 billion by 2026 by bringing our tax dollars home from Washington and reducing many of the healthcare costs the state currently pays.
Thirty-six other states have already expanded Medicaid, including neighboring Arkansas, where officials reported using savings from the expansion of more than $400 million during the last three years alone to cut state income taxes and reduce payments previously allocated to the uninsured.
The Missouri border states of Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska and Iowa have also opted for Medicaid expansion.
Every state that has expanded Medicaid has chosen to keep the program in place – in part due to its positive economic outcomes. In Michigan, for example, the billions of dollars returned to the state from Washington have generated nearly $800 million in new state and local revenues and saved the state more than $1 billion on mental health programs.
Beyond its many individual supporters, nearly 200 organizations have endorsed the Healthcare for Missouri campaign, with many more anticipated to sign on in the coming months.