The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 4, 2013

Residents show support for Medicaid expansion during summer hearings

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Webb City native Derek Benham is one of the nearly 100 Missourians who took time this summer to address a legislative panel on the issue of Medicaid expansion in the state.

Benham, a second-year medical student at the University of Missouri, told a panel appointed by lawmakers at a hearing in Columbia last weekend that expansion would help uninsured working Missourians who end up having to use places such as the MedZou Community Health Clinic in Columbia where he works.

In his testimony, Benham said his clinic, like other free clinics throughout the state, serves the “working poor,” some of whom, he said, “provide for their children before seeking their own health care.”

“As a conservative, I strongly believe that we should attempt to find private-sector solutions to society’s problems,” he said in an interview after testifying. “However, there is not always a private-sector solution. Far too often this country gets caught in a political knot, with demagoguery and partisanship encroaching where service and leadership once stood.”

What is known as the House Interim Committee on Citizens and Legislators Working Group on Medicaid Eligibility and Reform heard similar comments from doctors, advocates for the disabled, hospital executives and the uninsured. The working group is one of three committees created by state lawmakers after the Republican-led Legislature repeatedly rejected Medicaid expansion proposals in the spring session.

‘Common ground’

Another of those who spoke was Barton County cattle rancher Darvin Bentlage. He drove to Columbia to be heard in the debate over Medicaid expansion.

Bentlage said he is a 57-year-old survivor of hepatitis B who does not have private health insurance because he doesn’t want to go deeper in debt, having already taken out a $700,000 farm loan.

Missouri has 850,000 residents like Bentlage who are uninsured.

“We’re not asking for handouts,” said Bentlage, of Golden City. “We’re just asking to help each other. That’s what people do, especially in rural communities. ... I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat. There’s a common ground somewhere.”

While the overwhelming majority of those who spoke in Columbia and at three other hearings in the state favored expanding Medicaid, and although Democrats led by Gov. Jay Nixon also are pushing for it, Republicans have thrown up a number of red flags.

The chairman of the House interim committee, Noel Torpey, R-Independence, and several others on the panel said that repairing what he called a “broken” Medicaid system is equally if not more important than broadening access.

Although Republicans blocked Medicaid expansion this spring, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, called it a two-year issue and said “reforming” Medicaid to make it available to more people “truly in need” would be the focus of the General Assembly next year.

“We see — and I believe Missourians see — expansion without reform as a massive misuse of taxpayer dollars on a program that provides inferior access to health care and poor health outcomes,” Jones said. “If we dump hundreds of thousands of additional uninsured people into that system and give them a magical plastic card and simply say, ‘Well now you have free health care,’ we will further drive an already broken system into a bankrupt state.”

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