The Medicaid 23

Twenty-two of the Medicaid 23 protesters who were found guilty of trespassing in the state Capitol pose for a photo Thursday at the Cole County Courthouse, along with their attorneys, Rod Chapel and Jay Barnes. Post-Dispatch photo by Tony Messenger.

My 10 years of holding public office has taught me to expect surprises. However, I was completely surprised — actually shocked — to learn that a Cole County prosecutor had suggested I’d been the victim of the group of clergy protesters known as the “Medicaid 23.”

When the protesters began their chants in the Senate gallery, I was on the floor filibustering a separate but similar attack on working people. The truth is, prosecution of the protesters was nothing more than the latest politically motivated smokescreen aimed at preventing what they, I and so many other Missourians are fighting for: Medicaid expansion across our state.

This initiative was the crux of the protests of those 23 clergy members who went on trial. Their involvement shows the basic moral issue involved with any policy, plan or law that affects health care for our poor. Extremists have subjected people they serve to sickness and even death because of an ideological opposition to Obamacare. And the actions of the Medicaid 23 highlight the inherent moral problems with that obstruction.

However, equal attention, I think, should be given to the morality also inherent in any policy, plan or law that has an economic impact on citizens. Jobs provide a critical societal anchor because work provides the means for a quality existence. The Republican majority’s refusal to expand Medicaid has cost our state tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic development and untold numbers of societal benefits that work provides.

The numbers are clear. A February 2013 study by Families USA titled “Missouri’s Economy will Benefit from Expanding Medicaid” predicted our state would receive $1.6 billion in new federal Medicaid funds if expansion passed the next year. Those funds would have created 16,400 new jobs across all sectors of Missouri’s economy. That’s a full 0.43 percent increase in our state’s workforce at a time when we are sorely in need of new jobs.

That growth wasn’t limited to the health care sector. In fact, the study explained that, because of the multiplier effect, many industries stood to benefit. “The increased federal funding and jobs created are projected to increase economic activity in Missouri by nearly $2 billion in 2016,” the study concluded.

Instead, here we are two years later. An opportunity to put more than 16,000 Missourians to work — wasted. The chance to grow our state’s moribund economy by nearly $2 billion — squandered. Both replaced by the termination of hundreds of local hospital jobs due to shortfalls in funding.

When the Legislature convenes in January, we must end this economic and moral malpractice. The real victims here are the thousands of Missourians penalized with sicker lives and fewer jobs created by political pettiness — no matter what a misguided prosecutor might claim.

So, please join me, the Medicaid 23 and our entire coalition of business groups, community organizations and activists fighting for Medicaid expansion as we intensify our efforts in the months ahead.

It’s time for our state to show basic benevolence. It’s time for our legislators to exhibit simple economic sense. It’s time to expand Medicaid.