Southwest Missourians unite in support of Medicaid expansion ballot initiative

Leaders from this city’s medical, civic, business and faith communities united Thursday in support of the statewide campaign to place Medicaid expansion on the November general election ballot.

Speakers included top executives from Freeman Health System, Mercy Hospital Carthage, a local ambulance service and the ACCESS Family Care medical and dental clinic, which hosted the event.

"The rural health crisis has hit southwest Missouri particularly hard," said Don McBride, CEO of ACCESS Family Care, noting that three of the 10 rural Missouri hospitals to close since 2014 are located in the region, including the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon and Sac-Osage Hospital in Osceola.

"Entire communities are being devastated, losing their largest employer and forcing southwest Missourians to drive an hour or more for lifesaving care."

Medicaid expansion in Missouri would help provide health coverage to more than 230,000 uninsured adults in the state, the overwhelmingly majority of whom work at jobs that don’t provide health coverage, by extending eligibility to individuals earning less than $18,000 a year. That cohort includes 50,000 parents and 18,000 near retirees.

It would bring more than $1 billion of our tax dollars home from Washington each year, create thousands of jobs and boost the state’s economy.

Thirty-six states have already opted to expand Medicaid, including neighboring Arkansas, where officials reported using savings from expansion to cut state income taxes and reduce payments previously allocated to the uninsured.

The Missouri border states of Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Nebraska have also opted for Medicaid expansion, with efforts also underway in the two other border states that comprise the Four-State region: Kansas and Oklahoma.

"The continued delivery of medical care to those who need it most is vital," reads a statement of support from the Episcopal Church of Missouri, which was represented in Joplin by the Rev. Frank Sierra of the city’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. "As we are sisters and brothers of one, creator God, we encourage the faithful of our dioceses and any other concerned citizens to consider supporting the effort to expand the Missouri Medicaid program."

An expansive body of research shows that Medicaid expansion will not just save lives but could also save taxpayers money.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have shown that expansion could save our state more than $1 billion by 2026 by reducing many of the healthcare costs the state now pays.

And an analysis of Medicaid expansion in Arkansas, Indiana and Ohio shows how those states have used Medicaid-derived savings to cut income taxes, increase government efficiency and improve worker productivity.

That report concluded that Medicaid expansion in Missouri "can be designed to budget for savings and revenue opportunities that significantly exceed the state's cost of implementation."

Healthcare for Missouri continues to collect voter signatures with a goal of qualifying for the November general election. The campaign reported earlier this month that it has collected more than 75 percent of the 172,000 valid voter signatures required for submission by early May.