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Opinion: Medicaid expansion is the right choice for Missouri

   

As an advanced practice nurse in a rural primary care clinic, I feel fortunate to treat our nation’s heroes.

But if it wasn’t for their sacrifices for our country, many of these brave men and women would be in the same perilous situation that far too many of their fellow Missourians face — forced to choose between seeking life-saving medical care and paying rent or putting food on the table.

This was an untenable choice before the global pandemic and one that now could pose even deadlier consequences.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, Missourians will finally have the chance to do what our state’s elected leaders have refused to do for nearly a decade. As president of the Missouri Nurses Association, and on behalf of another group of heroes — our health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak — I urge you to join me in voting yes on Amendment 2.

Expanding Medicaid to include individuals earning up to $18,000 annually will deliver health care to thousands of hardworking Missourians whose jobs don’t provide health insurance.

That includes health care workers such as home health aides and other essential workers such as restaurant staff, delivery drivers, and retail employees. Among the 230,000 Missourians to benefit, narrowing the coverage gap through expansion will provide access to care to an estimated 50,000 parents, 18,000 near-retirees, and 10,000 veterans who don’t qualify for VA health care.

This voter-driven initiative qualified for the ballot in the spring after nearly 350,000 Missourians signed petitions to let the people decide. Those signatures were almost entirely collected before the coronavirus outbreak, with campaign supporters submitting more than twice the number needed.

In the ensuing months, and with the glaring backdrop of a global public health crisis and a devastated economy, support for Amendment 2 has only grown, both deeper and broader.

More than 300 organizations have pledged their support, including AARP, the Missouri Catholic Conference, national patient advocacy groups, and business groups such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its local affiliations in Columbia, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

The strong backing from business groups reinforces that Medicaid expansion is not only good for the state’s health but also its bottom line.

Independent research on behalf of the Missouri Foundation for Health suggests that Medicaid expansion will create an average of more than 16,000 new jobs statewide in its first five years,  thanks to the influx of new federal tax dollars at a higher reimbursement rate — a 900 percent return on the state’s investment.

That infusion of federal money could actually save the state more than $1 billion annually, research shows, and free up state money for priorities such as education, transportation, and public safety.

In rural Missouri, where 10 hospitals have closed since 2014 and many more are hanging by a thread, Medicaid expansion could help stem a crisis in care that sees some residents of our state routinely having to drive 25, 50, or even 100 miles for medical care — extra time that in some circumstances can mean the difference between life or death.

As a health care provider, there’s nothing worse than seeing a patient have to decline needed treatment of medication due to their lack of insurance coverage.

If the past few months have shown us anything, it’s that access to health care is more important now than ever. It’s past time for Missouri to join the 37 other states to embrace Medicaid expansion, including our neighbors in Oklahoma, who did so in late June. On Tuesday, vote yes on 2.