Interim Medicaid committee hearing in Columbia shows expansion support


COLUMBIA, Mo. — Last week, Rep. Noel Torpey, a Republican from Independence who chairs the Citizens and Legislators Working Group on Medicaid Eligibility and Reform, tweeted that it was “crystal clear” thus far that Missourians want Medicaid expanded as called for by the federal Affordable Care Act. The third of six scheduled public hearings throughout the state largely echoed Torpey’s analysis.

Torpey and his Working Group have been tasked with holding hearings throughout the state and filing a report to House Speaker Tim Jones with recommendations on how Missouri lawmakers should handle the expansion— a politically controversial because of its association with the ACA.

Graduate student Gretchen Maune, speaks to the committee. Maune is blind and requires the help of her seeing eye dog. (Photo by Collin Reischman)
Graduate student Gretchen Maune, speaks to the committee. Maune is blind and requires the help of her seeing eye dog. (Photo by Collin Reischman)

About 40 citizens and healthcare professionals testified before the working group on Saturday in Columbia, Mo., and of that number, only two spoke against Medicaid expansion. The crowd of about 100 people largely was comprised of Medicaid recipients and healthcare professionals.

David Zechman, President and CEO of the Ozark Medical Center, told the committee that rural hospitals could be “obliterated” if Medicaid coverage was not expanded. Zechman cited a study estimating that 50 percent of Missouri’s rural hospitals could face closure if the state refused to expand the program.

“Our facility relies too heavily on various government payments, and we care extensively for the uninsured,” Zechman said. “If we can’t continue to be reimbursed for those costs, if we can’t find a way to expand this program, then some of the unique and life-saving services we provide will surely have to go away.”

Several Medicaid recipients testified to the hardship of qualifying for essential medical treatment and also working. Expanding Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, they say, will reduce the number of Missourian’s forced to choose between eligibility for their medical treatments and working.

The hearing also marked the first thus far in which individuals against expansion spoke. Fred Berry, a 2012 Republican candidate for Democrat Stephen Webber’s Columbia seat in the Missouri House of Representatives, came to the meeting to speak against expansion.

“Obamacare is going to bankrupt this country,” Berry told the committee. “And this expansion won’t create a single new job, we need to get people the ability to get off of government welfare, not encourage more people to go on the system.”

Berry said the U.S. would soon face the “worst depression in our history” because of the declining value of the dollar and urged the committee to avoid “a socialist program,” comparing the expansion of the healthcare system in both Canada and China.

Berry, who admitted his own insurance coverage is through Medicare, said he’d spoken with several doctors across the state who oppose expansion. However, he declined to name anyone in particular, and no physicians present spoke against expansion.

The hearing marks the halfway point for the Working Group. The next meeting will be 9 a.m. this Wednesday in Kennet, Mo., at the Bootheel Area Independent Living Services building.  It will be the first meeting in the largely conservative area of the 8th congressional district, which is one of the 15 poorest districts in the country.

Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email or via Twitter at @CMReischman