Missouri lawmakers who oppose expanding Medicaid are "behind the curve" set by a sampling of voters 45 years and older, according to a survey released Wednesday by the AARP's Missouri chapter.
"They're trying to convince the public that this is a fundamentally bad idea," said volunteer Ron Sergent, a retired Columbia Public Schools teacher, during a news conference at the Capitol. "This survey shows exactly the opposite, by large numbers.
"It's not close - and across all age groups."
Based on 800 weighted responses from a Mid-March telephone survey, 72 percent of Missourians 45 and older say Medicaid is "extremely" or "very" important, compared to other government programs.
And 64 percent agree with Gov. Jay Nixon's support of accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid services in the state, as envisioned by the federal Affordable Care Act.
The federal government has promised states it will cover the full costs of expanding Medicaid services to families at 138 percent of the federal poverty level, for the first three years of that expansion.
After that, the U.S. government says, it will pay 90 percent of the additional costs.
At current rates, a family of four making $32,200 a year could
But the Legislature's Republican leaders have said all session long that expanding Medicaid based on that promise isn't a good idea.
They don't trust the federal government to keep that promise - at least partly because the federal budget currently operates with about 40 percent borrowed money.
But, Sergent told reporters Wednesday, that's a "scare tactic."
"I think that's an attempt to put the thinking of Missouri residents at the abyss," he explained, "as though we're going to fall in some great abyss, and we're standing in that shadow of the abyss.
"But we have found, in this Legislature, that actually it is the Legislature alone that is standing at that abyss - the public is ready to move on."
Norma Collins, AARP-Missouri's advocacy director, said expanding Medicaid services especially is important to "those folks who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, and those people who are, also, having problems or difficulty finding new jobs."
She said Missourians over 50 "are having a more difficult time finding employment."
AARP has more than 750,000 members in Missouri, who have to be at least 50 to join, she noted.
And 75 percent of Missourians over 50 voted in the last election, an AARP fact sheet said.
The AARP survey was conducted by RDD Field Services, a Portland, Ore., polling company.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Missouri Hospital Assn. are two groups supporting the proposed expansion.
The hospital association has warned that failure to expand Medicaid could result in some hospitals - especially in rural areas - closing, because terms of the new health care law will reduce some of the federal assistance they now receive for caring for poor people.
But state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph and a medical doctor, told colleagues Wednesday morning the hospitals' support is about getting more money - not improving patient care.
"Missouri hospitals are making a profit - $871 million in 2010," Schaaf said. "Now they want to be paid double. ...
"In fact, since they will be paid at commercial rates, they will be paid more than double."
Schaaf said the hospitals "are being dishonest" when they don't talk about the double-payments envisioned under the Medicaid expansion.
"A pre-requisite for a discussion on Medicaid expansion is that competition in the private marketplace must be on the table," he told the Senate.
Collins said AARP supports lawmakers who want to improve Medicaid and make it more efficient, "but we also are supportive of taking a very close look at how we can expand this to ... the millions of people who are uninsured."