We often think of maintaining our health as a personal matter, discussed only with our doctor and close friends and family. The COVID-19 pandemic though has exposed how interconnected we are to the health of our fellow Missourians. More than ever, being healthy means keeping our communities and loved ones safe, and our economy running.
Right now — amidst a global pandemic — many of our family, friends, and neighbors don’t have access to the health care they need to stay healthy, go to work, and support their families. This is a crisis that affects all of us.
Through my practice at Jordan Valley Community Health Center in Springfield, I see firsthand the consequences when our neighbors do not have health insurance. I have patients whose preventable health conditions have become emergency situations that are so severe they can no longer work and no longer care for themselves or their families. I see my patients’ parents having to choose between filling prescriptions or paying next month’s rent. This leads to worsening mental health as well. These problems have only gotten worse as this pandemic has caused people to lose jobs and often the health insurance that comes with them.
Currently, parents in a family of four must earn $5,550 or less per year to qualify for health insurance through Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet. Among the lowest in the nation, this threshold leaves many working Missourians without a realistic way to get health insurance. They make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private health insurance on their own and aren’t offered insurance through their jobs.
On Aug. 4, Missourians will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to expand Medicaid. By expanding MO HealthNet, an individual who makes up to $18,000 per year would be eligible. More than 230,000 Missourians would gain health insurance under this proposal, including many who are in hourly jobs like restaurant servers, retail clerks, and construction workers — those who have been hit the hardest by the economic fallout of COVID-19.
The benefits of Medicaid expansion extend far past those gaining access to health care. It’s estimated that expansion would create 16,000 new jobs on average per year and save our state $39 million in the first year alone. The federal government would cover 90 percent of the costs each year to expand Missouri’s Medicaid program. This commitment is written into law and guarantees this funding will be available. These are funds that Missourians have already paid into through federal taxes, and we deserve for these funds to be returned home.
These dollars would also help keep rural hospitals and clinics open. Seven rural hospitals have closed recently across the state. In Springfield, the Ozarks Community Hospital was forced to shut its doors a few years ago, eliminating a critical access point for care in our community.
As difficult as these last few months have been, this pandemic has also shown the strength and resilience of our community. We are all stronger when our family, friends, and neighbors have what they need to stay healthy. For everyone in our state, expanding Medicaid just makes sense.
Dr. Kayce Morton practices in Springfield at Jordan Valley Community Health Center.