Becki Uccello knows her state representative cares about keeping kids covered by Medicaid in Missouri, if they qualify for care.
That’s because twice he’s helped her daughter regain coverage after the state kicked her off of it.
Uccello lives in Springfield, Missouri.
Her state representative is Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, who is the speaker of the House, one of the most powerful politicians in Missouri.
She called his office in 2014, the first time Uccello’s daughter, Izzi, lost her coverage.
Izzi was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She qualifies for Medicaid because of her disability. When she was 5, her paperwork got “lost,” according to the state, and she lost coverage.
After several frantic calls, waits on hold for 45 minutes or longer, and no progress, a social worker suggested that Uccello call her state representative. So she did. Within a day, Haahr’s office got Izzi’s coverage reinstated.
A year later, Uccello and her husband, John, switched banks, but didn’t tell the state of the switch within 10 days. Again, Izzi was dropped from Medicaid.
The Uccellos — she’s a public school teacher, he’s a nurse — once again found themselves stuck in the maze more than 100,000 families have gotten lost in over the past couple of years. Under the administrations of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, and Gov. Eric Greitens and Gov. Mike Parson, both Republicans, the state has had massive problems keeping kids, seniors and disabled Missourians on their Medicaid coverage, even when they qualify.
In the past two years, Missouri leads the U.S. in the number of children who have dropped off the Medicaid rolls.
The experience for many parents when they find out they don’t have coverage is similar to what the Uccellos faced.
“When we have called the local office, we’ve been put on hold for 45 minutes, sometimes longer,” Uccello says. “Or the call drops. Or we are told that someone new is handling our family. We have offered to visit our local office, to help straighten out information, but we have been told that we can’t do that.”
For years now, health care advocates have been raising alarm bells about the Medicaid issues in Missouri. Under the Nixon administration, around the time the Uccellos lost coverage for their daughter, those advocates had weekly meetings with the state to help identify problems. The meetings stopped under the Republican administrations. Parson’s office has suggested that the primary reason for all the people dropping from Medicaid coverage is an improved economy.
Experts have looked at the numbers, and that explanation doesn’t fly, they say.
Just a few weeks ago, after receiving a briefing from state health care officials, Haahr issued a statement saying that the “decrease in caseloads” was not a surprise to MO HealthNet officials, citing increased attempts by the state to verify eligibility and changes to the Affordable Care Act that had temporarily inflated numbers.
Uccello, who is grateful for Haahr’s help, agrees with advocates who suggest something else is up, particularly when in so many cases, groups like Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and other state representatives like Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, are finding that people who are still eligible are losing their Medicaid services.
“After 7 years of Izzi being in the system, I am confident that these hoops are their way of weeding out families. Or the workers are overwhelmed,” Uccello says. “Either way, it’s leaving a lot of families without necessary services.”
She is hoping Haahr will use his power as speaker of the House to call hearings on the issue and truly investigate what is happening under the state bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, some health care advocates are taking matters into their own hands.
Last week, a coalition called Healthcare for Missouri announced a statewide plan to put an initiative on the November 2020 ballot to expand Medicaid coverage as originally called for in the Affordable Care Act. Thirty-six states have done so, and in the states like Missouri that haven’t expanded coverage to more people living in poverty, rural hospitals are closing and economic gains promised by the influx of federal health-care dollars have been lost.
The expansion has been blocked by Missouri Republicans, even though polls show Medicaid expansion is overwhelmingly popular with voters. Expansion won’t fix the bureaucratic problems the state faces, but it will send a message that Missourians value making sure that its most vulnerable citizens have the health care they need and deserve.
“It should not be this hard,” Uccello says of making sure kids who qualify for Medicaid are covered. “This is about kids and their health. This is not a partisan thing. It isn’t about Republican or Democrat. The system is broken and kids are being hurt.”