COLUMBIA — The leaders of six Boone County congregations gathered at the St. Thomas More Newman Center on Monday night to express frustration with the Republican-controlled state legislature for refusing to extend Medicaid coverage.
Republicans in the state legislature have in recent months resisted Gov. Jay Nixon's effort to expand Medicaid to cover an additional 300,000 Missouri residents as part of the Affordable Care Act, saying it would strain the state's budget.
The Affordable Care Act allows states to decide whether to expand Medicaid coverage to families with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government would cover the full cost for three years, but the state's burden of the cost would gradually increase to 10 percent of the total.
Medicaid expansion isn't a partisan issue, but a moral issue, the Rev. Thomas Saucier of the Newman Center said. He directed opponents of Medicaid expansion to look at Matthew 25:36-43, which encourages Christians to care for their neighbors.
"Universal health care is a right," Saucier said. "Universal health care is not a belief."
The speakers directed many of their statements toward state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.
"He needs to be listening to his constituents, but instead he has shut his ears to us," the Rev. Molly Housh Gordon of the Unitarian Universalist Church said, referring to an April 30 meeting between Schaefer and faith leaders who supported Medicaid expansion. "The Capitol building isn't his building, but it is the people's building to hold our elected officials responsive to the will of the people."
Housh Gordon said she thinks Schaefer's claim, that the Medicaid expansion is a matter of budget constraints, misses the big picture.
"This is not a matter of addition or subtraction, but about people," she said. "This is a matter of well-being for thousands of Missourians who rely on the services Medicaid would provide to them."
The event leaders were from the Newman Center, the Rock Bridge Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Westminster College Chapel, the Franciscan Chapel of the Charismatic Episcopalian, the Unitarian Universalist and the Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church. About 50 people attended the event.
The congregations are members of Missouri Faith Voices, a coalition of 200 congregations across the state that support Medicaid expansion.
One of the speakers, Debra Richardson, wasn't an ordained minister or a priest, but she had personal experiences to offer regarding Medicaid. She survived thyroid cancer thanks to an early detection test covered by Medicaid. Now, she's worried about her sister Wilma's health.
"She is 50 years old and has kidney and liver disease," Richardson said. "It sickens me that state legislators are playing politics with my sister's life by ignoring people who need the help of medicine that Medicaid could provide them."
The Rev. Brian Ford of the Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church said he's tired of having conversations with church members who are ill because they can't buy adequate health insurance.
"I am tired of talking about the struggles of health care and pain," he said.
Ford was optimistic, however, that if various faith leaders could coordinate on the issue, so could the state government.
"It gives me hope that diverse people can hopefully come together and be a model for our state legislature," he said.
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