Rally promotes Medicaid expansion

A crowd packed three floors of the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday to hear speakers address their concerns about increased Medicaid funding.

A crowd packed three floors of the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday to hear speakers address their concerns about increased Medicaid funding. Photo by Julie Smith.

A crowd estimated to be at least 1,000 people — and some supporters said more than 1,500 — rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon, urging lawmakers to expand Missouri’s Medicaid program.

“Our voices are united and our message is clear,” Gov. Jay Nixon told the rally in his keynote address. “Now is the time to strengthen our economy; now is the time to protect taxpayers.

“Now is the time to work together, to improve health care in Missouri.”

He later told reporters: “300,000 people don’t have health care; $2 billion of our taxpayer dollars are headed off to Washington, D.C.,” unless Missouri expands the Medicaid program.

For the crowds from all over the state, packed into the Capitol’s Rotunda, Nixon’s support for expanding Medicaid is the right track.

Speaker after speaker argued that adding money to the joint federal-state program — as envisioned by the federal Affordable Care Act — is “the right thing to do.”

Jim Shortal of St. Louis, a board member of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the crowd: “I’m here on behalf of the one-in-17 persons who suffers from a severe mental illness.

“Mental illness does not discriminate — it touches all of us (and) is more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”

Shortal said he ran a successful small business until five years ago, when his untreated bipolar II disorder cost him “everything — my company, my home and my family. Today, thanks to Medicaid, I’m in recovery and a grateful example of mental wellness.”

He urged lawmakers of both parties to put aside partisan politics and base their votes on the moral and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.

“Nearly one in five of the patients we see in our emergency department have no health insurance,” said John Dawes of Sedalia’s Bothwell Regional Health Center.

“Without Medicaid expansion, Bothwell and many other rural hospitals must consider cuts in services. That’s something none of us wants to see, because the communities we serve deserve the very best access and care, close to their homes.”

Brian Coffey, CEO of Sac-Osage Memorial Hospital, Osceola, added that failing to expand the Medicaid program “means tough times for hospitals in small towns — they may not make it. One in four people who have a heart attack (go to) a rural hospital first.

“Do you want to take the chance that you’re that one-in-four that has to wait hours (to reach medical care) while undergoing a heart attack or, worse yet, a stroke?”

Hours before the Medicaid rally, Senate Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said any lawmakers’ discussion of Medicaid expansion is highly unlikely, especially after President Obama asked Congress to delay changes to the Medicaid subsidy of hospitals for at least a year.

But Doyle Sager, pastor of Jefferson City’s First Baptist Church, told Tuesday’s rally he represented another “300,000 hard-working Missourians who could be included in Missouri’s health care — if we have the political and moral will to bring it about.”

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