We're heartened by last week's announcement in Joplin that proponents of Medicaid expansion in Missouri are closing in on their target.
The campaign, Healthcare for Missouri, has collected about 80% of the 161,000 signatures needed to put the issue on the November ballot.
With a little more than two months to go — the question must be submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State by May 3 to make it to voters this fall — we're optimistic.
We don't doubt that it will pass if it gets to the voters, and we encourage everyone who hasn't signed the petition to do so. Soon.
We recognize the concerns of lawmakers — Missouri's share of the cost and the possibility that the federal government will not honor its commitment, but we think the expansion is the right step for the state.
So do health care providers in Joplin:
• Stephanie Brady, executive director of the Community Clinic of Southwest Missouri, told us that people who are in a coverage gap will benefit. Right now, they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance.
• Paula Baker, CEO and president of Freeman Health System, told us: "People who don’t have insurance face a lot of challenges, and one of the challenges is their inability to get medical care when they need. And often they don’t have a primary care physician.” As a result, they let health issues worsen until problems become so severe they end up in an emergency room.
“I think there is a misconception that this is a program to subsidize people who are not working," Baker said. "And that’s not the case at all. In most cases, both members of the family are working; they are working as hard as they can, doing their very, very best. But they just don’t make enough money to allow them to pay for insurance. They have to pick paying rent or buying groceries over insurance."
• Mercy worries that more small rural hospitals could close.
• Dr. Charles Bentlage, a Joplin physician, said about 230,000 Missourians would gain Medicaid coverage if the program is expanded and that Missouri is losing out on federal money for which it would otherwise be eligible if we expand Medicaid.
We think expansion should have happened years ago; that being said, we have a chance to move forward now.
Let's seize the moment.