As a doctor, I don’t often write in to comment on the news of the day or get involved in campaigns. But when it comes to the Medicaid expansion campaign launched recently, I know the health of my patients and families across Missouri is on the line, and I feel compelled to speak out.

Right now, Missouri is one of just 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid. That means hardworking families across our state are going without access to affordable health care, and it means our health care system and economy are going without billions of our tax dollars that should be coming home from Washington but are not.

The status quo is hurting my patients’ health, and it’s hurting our state’s economy. It’s time for it to change.

Recently, doctors, nurses, patients, hospital and business leaders, and voters from across the state came together to launch the Healthcare for Missouri campaign to let voters decide what’s best when it comes to our health care.

Expanding Medicaid will deliver care for more than 200,000 Missourians and save lives. Today, far too many families in our state are working hard at jobs that do not offer insurance and struggling to afford the most basic care. I know that preventative care saves lives, and I have watched far too many patients get far sicker than necessary because they did not get treatment when they needed it. No one should have to choose between paying for lifesaving care and paying their mortgage, and Medicaid expansion will help make sure that’s true for families in Missouri.

This campaign will also bring more than a billion dollars a year of our tax dollars home from Washington — money that’s going to other states instead. The sad truth is we’re already paying for Medicaid expansion. Missouri communities are just not receiving any of the benefits from doing so, and that needs to change.

Bringing home more than a billion dollars a year will not only improve our health but also grow our economy, create jobs, help small businesses and support struggling families working hard to get ahead. It will save us all money by getting people the help they need when they need it instead of treating people the most expensive way possible — in the emergency room after their condition has worsened dramatically.

Bringing our tax dollars home can also help save lives and boost our economy by keeping rural hospitals open. When emergencies happen, being hours from the nearest hospital can be the difference between life or death, but unfortunately rural hospitals across Missouri are struggling to keep their doors open in part because we have not expanded Medicaid and brought our money home. This campaign will give us the chance to help keep our hospitals open and our communities strong.

For families struggling to deal with the opioid epidemic, Medicaid expansion will bring an influx of new resources that can help people struggling with addiction get help.

I am not a political activist or politician, but I know from my experience treating patients that we have missed out on the benefits of Medicaid expansion for far too long. It’s time to act to create a stronger, healthier Missouri for all of us.

Dr. Charles Bentlage has been a practicing family physician in Joplin for the past 49 years.

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