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Doctors gather in Jefferson City to support Medicaid expansion

Last Feb. 25, doctors and other medical providers from across the state gathered to support Medicaid expansion in Jefferson City. Lawmakers were unimpressed. Last week the Census Bureau presented numbers that show how poorly Missouri is doing in helping its citizens, particularly its children, access health care. (File photo(   

JEFFERSON CITY — Republican Gov. Mike Parson said it is likely that a group trying to expand Medicaid in Missouri will be successful in collecting enough signatures to put the question to voters in the 2020 election.

But, a day after a Washington-based nonprofit contributed a half-million dollars to the campaign working to get the expansion effort on the ballot, Parson and other Republican leaders said they would not sign the petition.

“I wouldn’t necessarily sign the petition,” Parson said. “We’ll let the voters decide that if it gets on the ballot.”

But, Parson said he believes the group known as “Healthcare for Missouri” will be able to get the required number of signatures.

“There’s a good chance it will get on the ballot,” Parson said.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, also said he won’t sign the petition, citing “a lot of budgetary concerns.”

Earlier this week, the North Fund, a nonprofit that doesn’t disclose its donors, gave $500,000 to the health care group, bringing its fundraising total to nearly $2 million in less than a week. Other contributors include the Missouri Hospital Association and St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare.

Naomi Seligman, a spokeswoman for the North Fund, described the group as a “nonpartisan, social impact organization that partners with committed community leaders to help make our country a more just, fair, and equitable place to live, work, and raise families.”

Seligman did not respond to a question about where the organization is getting its money.

“We focus on supporting innovative social entrepreneurship, educational initiatives, and advocacy campaigns that lift up communities and create real and lasting change,” Seligman said.

Connie Farrow, spokeswoman for Healthcare for Missouri, said the coalition was thankful for the contribution. She also did not respond to a request for more information about where North Fund gets its money.

“All of our contributors support Medicaid expansion and agree that Missourians should decide for ourselves whether we should bring our tax dollars home from Washington to keep rural hospitals open, create thousands of jobs and deliver health care for more than 200,000 of our hardworking citizens.”

Organizers need to secure at least 172,000 signatures to qualify to get on the ballot.

If the question is put on the ballot and then approved, Missouri would expand the health insurance program to those who earn up to $18,000 a year. Missouri is one of 14 states that has not made the program available to more low-income people.

The Republican-led Legislature has rejected Medicaid expansion for years, saying it would cost too much.

Haahr said his opposition has not changed.

“I obviously have some concerns. That would blow a sizable hole in our general revenue budget,” Haahr said.

Haahr said the potential extra dollars needed for an expansion could take money away from K-12 schools and higher education.

“Those two areas would take an incredible hit if we were have to cut several hundred million dollars out of the budget to fund that,” Haahr said.

Advocates say rural hospitals in particular need Medicaid expansion to stay afloat.

Nine rural hospitals in the state have closed since 2014.

In launching the bid, the group is following in the footsteps of three other states where supporters took their case to voters after Republicans blocked the expansion at the legislative level.

Similar initiatives in Utah, Nebraska and Idaho were approved last year. Maine voters approved expansion in 2017.

Parson said if the expansion is approved, he would ask the federal government for a grant to help manage the potential added cost.

“If it gets on the ballot and people vote for it, we’re going to have to deal with it,” Parson said.

Parson said it is important to address problems within the state’s Medicaid program.

“First of all, we want to get it cleaned up. We know there are a lot of problems right now. We’re trying to make adjustments,” Parson said.

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