By Collin Reischman
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Some 2,000 people and 171 organizations gathered in the Capitol Tuesday to express support for expansion of Medicaid, currently being debated in statehouses across the country as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
Gov. Jay Nixon delivered the keynote address at the rally, stating that it was a call for action from wary lawmakers.
“This is not a protest, this is a chance for us to come together, to stand united, and have our chorus of voices heard for a common purpose,” Nixon said. “We want to make sure every representative, every senator in every office of every corner of this lovely building can hear our common purpose. We want them to know, now is the time.”
The crowd was largely a mix of union workers, health care employees, and advocates. Twelve speakers, including Nixon, called on the crowd to voice their desire for expansion to their representatives.
The rally, designed to highlight a wide-range of support for Medicaid expansion, featured students, police officers, doctors, executives and clergymen. Dr. Rev. Doyle Sager, president of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, said Medicaid expansion was a moral imperative.
“God will judge us on what we do for hundreds of thousands of our fellow man,” Sager said. “All citizens are deserving of the dignity bestowed on us by our creator. Make this happen, and let justice flow like water, and righteous like a mighty stream.”
Speakers repeatedly told the crowd that expansion was the best fiscal decision the state could make and the best way to lower healthcare costs, assertions frequently challenged by Republican lawmakers.
Sean Nicholson, executive director of Progress Missouri, said Republican legislators were using the news of the discontinuation of Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments as a “cop out” to avoid meaningful reform for Medicaid. President Obama’s 2014 fiscal year budget delays for one year proposed cuts to the payments design to recoup expenses for hospitals that treat the uninsured. The payments are set to be reduced as the number of uninsured individuals decreases under the ACA. Republicans have used the announcement to paint the ACA as financially untenable.
Nicholson also suggested that some of the recent controversy surrounding the Department of Revenue was a distraction from the issue of Medicaid, calling the sudden interest in the issue by the majority an “interesting coincidence.”
“I think [the Republicans] flail because they have no good response to this plan,” Nicholson said. “I think it’s a sign, a significant sign, that the caucus met outside of this building today to avoid having to answer their constituents. But they’ll have to answer to them soon, I’m sure. It’s just too bad that the leadership in both chambers continues to drag their feet on something so important.”
Nixon, speaking to reporters later, grew agitated after repeated questions over the document scanning issue.
“It’s time folks got back to work here and focused on what needs to get done,” he said. “We need to get $2 billion down, we need to get downward pressure on health care premiums, we need to improve and reform Medicaid.”
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