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Medicaid expansion ballot effort advances with hundreds of boxes of signatures delivered to secretary of state

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A coalition of doctors, faith leaders, and others who hoped to see Medicaid expansion on the November ballot delivered hundreds of boxes of signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office Friday. 

About 346,000 signatures — more than two times the 172,000 needed to qualify for the general election ballot — in hundreds of boxes were hand-delivered to the James C. Kirkpatrick State Information Center. The signatures for Petition 2020-63 were gathered before the global health crisis largely shuttered the state. 

Those gathered in support of the ballot measure pointed to the persisting COVID-19 pandemic as having “amplified the disparity” in Missouri’s health system. 

“The need for Medicaid expansion was apparent before the outbreak and only becomes more critical as the pandemic continues,” Healthcare for Missouri campaign manager A.J. Bockelman said in a statement. “It’s time to help the workers hit hardest by this crisis and bring billions of our tax dollars home to create jobs once this outbreak is under control.” 

The ballot language asks if voters wish to amend the Missouri Constitution to expand MO HealthNet services for individuals between 19 and 64 years old with an income level at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. It would also prohibit greater or additional burdens on eligibility for enrollment standards. 

The income benchmark would be set at less than $18,000 for an individual or $30,000 for a family of three. 

If approved, the expansion would help 230,000 Missourians and keep rural hospitals open, proponents said. 

“Across the state, hundreds of Missourians volunteered to collect signatures to close Missouri’s Coverage Gap,” Chelsea Berkhout, organizing director with Missouri Health Care for All, said in a statement. “The fact that we are able to turn in nearly twice as many signatures as required is a sign of how many Missourians support expanding Medicaid.” 

However, Gov. Mike Parson said he doesn’t believe “it’s the time to be expanding” such a program given the financial uncertainty from the fallout of COVID-19. 

According to the fiscal note calculated by the state auditor, state government entities are estimated to have one-time costs of roughly $6.4 million and an unknown annual net fiscal impact by 2026 ranging from increased costs of at least $200 million to savings of $1 billion.

Other reactions in support of the effort: 

State Sen. Jill Schupp: “Now more than ever, we need to expand access to health care. Missouri, let’s get this done this November!”

Missouri Sierra Club chapter director John Hickey: “Missourians need health care, and we’re happy to see this important step of the citizen-led initiative petition process complete. Climate change is increasing health risks for all across our state. Missourians most impacted by the negative effects of climate change must have affordable and accessible health care.” 

SEIU Healthcare Missouri state director Lenny Jones: “We are proud to be a part of the Healthcare for Missouri coalition as we mark a major milestone in our efforts to bring quality healthcare to 230,000 more Missourians. The signature delivery today exceeds the requirements for placing this critical issue on the November ballot by more than double, exemplifying the energy and support this movement for Medicaid expansion has across our state.” 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.