Gov. Mike Parson had 24 Skutniks in his State of the State speech on Wednesday.
Those are the folks governors or presidents invite to their speeches and highlight among polite applause to be a prop as the speaker makes a finer point about public policy or an accomplishment.
President Ronald Reagan is credited with beginning the tradition in 1982 when he invited Lenny Skutnik — who had jumped in the Potomac River to save a plane crash victim — to the annual State of the Union speech.
Among Parson’s Skutniks this week were Mayor Lyda Krewson and the other mayors of Missouri’s four largest cities. They sat in the audience while the Republican governor talked about doing something about inner-city violence, but refused to outline any specific gun proposals.
This year, in what might be a first, even the response to Parson’s State of the State speech had Skutniks. State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat who is running against Parson, a Republican, in the 2020 race for governor, invited two women to speak about their experiences after their children were cut from the state’s Medicaid rolls, even though they still qualified for the federally funded health care program.
One of the women was Diedre Wortham, a black, single mom from north St. Louis whom I wrote about last year. She didn’t find out her son had lost his health insurance until he showed up for a weekly appointment and the doctor’s office told him he no longer had Medicaid.
“It was like a slap in the face,” Wortham told me last summer. “I had just filled out the paperwork for food stamps. I knew we qualified. I figured it was all supposed to be done together. It was a lot to deal with.”
Her 11-year-old son has been returned to the Medicaid program. So have thousands of others of the more than 100,000 children in Missouri who have lost their coverage in the past couple of years.
This is the sort of thing that should be highlighted in the State of the State speech. Governors love to brag about their rankings — the good ones — to highlight job growth or, as Parson did Wednesday, a drop in unemployment.
This is a case where Missouri is No. 1 in the nation.
More children have lost Medicaid coverage in this state than in any other state in the nation.
Parson didn’t mention that.
Apparently, there isn’t room in the House chamber for 100,000 Skutniks.
But how about 5,431? That’s how many children lost Medicaid in December alone.
“Why is this happening?” asks Washington University professor Timothy McBride, a nationally recognized health policy analyst. It’s a question that he’s been asking a lot in the past year. McBride used to be the chairman of the Mo HealthNet Oversight Committee, which was studying the issue. Parson replaced McBride on the committee when he kept asking for answers about the massive drop of children from Medicaid coverage.
Parson credited an improved economy, but the math didn’t add up on that.
Neither does this:
If the economy is so good, why are applications for Medicaid on the way up?
That’s another oddity McBride has seen in the state’s numbers recently.
Over the last four months, Medicaid applications in Missouri are up 25%.
“Why would the applications to Medicaid be up 25% if people are getting jobs and do not need Medicaid any more?” McBride wonders.
It’s a good question.
The fact that the governor continues to refuse to address the problem is “unacceptable,” Galloway said in response to his speech.
A few hours later, in one state to the west, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly made Medicaid the heart of her address to lawmakers. Her key Skutnik was a member of the opposing party. Kelly is a Democrat. The majority leader of the Kansas Senate is Republican Sen. Jim Denning. Earlier this month the two Kansas politicians struck a deal to expand Medicaid coverage in the state, leaving Missouri farther behind another border state in providing health care to its most vulnerable residents.
Despite the experience in nearly every state that has expanded Medicaid — including those run by Republicans — and multiple studies that say the expansion saves lives and money, Parson and many of his fellow Republicans hold on to the canard that expanding Medicaid costs too much money.
Meanwhile, on the day that Parson wouldn’t talk about the state’s most pressing issue, another rural hospital closed, this one in Cooper County.
“The state of our state is strong,” Parson said on Wednesday.
Unless you’re a poor kid who needs health care.