We see cracks in the health care system all around us. People are risking their health by rationing their medicines to make them last a little bit longer. Families are facing bankruptcy at the hands of one medical bill. More and more of our neighbors are relying on the generosity of friends and strangers to meet their health care needs. But donation websites cannot replace our health care system. Without access to health care, Missouri families are suffering.

There is a solution. Missourians turn to a variety of local, state and federal programs, dedicated professionals, volunteers and community organizations to get the health care they need to lead healthy lives.

Safety net programs are critical, and funding for these programs supports local hospitals, urgent care facilities and medical providers, especially in rural areas such as ours. It supports our community health center, Access Family Care, where we serve 25,000 people in our region.

In fact, Missouri’s nearly 200 community health center sites serve more than 550,000 Missourians through 2 million visits annually. In addition to increasing access to care for Missourians across the state, these health centers generate $1.4 billion in economic impact and create more than 9,000 jobs statewide.

Programs such as MO HealthNet — the state’s Medicaid program — help Missouri families access affordable care. Medicaid enrollees include working families, older adults, people with disabilities and children. But today, this coverage is at risk for tens of thousands of families. This year alone, 127,000 people — more than 90,000 of them children — have been dropped by the program. That is a rate that is more than seven times higher than the national average. This isn’t a trend; this is a mistake.

Our state leaders must step up to solve this problem because when our kids are healthier, they are better prepared to learn and grow, and ultimately, they are more likely to become productive, healthy, independent adults.

When children and families don’t have access to care, their costs for medical treatment are passed on to everyone else. It could be in the form of higher insurance premiums or more uncompensated care.

That does nothing to improve anyone’s health and means we all pay a higher price.

But when all Missourians have access to care and resources that help them meet their needs, they can live up to their potential and pursue their dreams, bringing limitless value to their communities and to our state. We all see the net benefit.

Health care only works when our neighbors can access it. As our state leaders prepare for the 2020 legislative session, access to health care — especially in rural communities — must be a priority.

Don McBride is CEO of Access Family Care Medical & Dental Clinics.

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