Group protests proposed cuts to health care

Missouri HealthVoice has launched an educational campaign about the cuts.
Wednesday, March 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:02 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A statewide coalition of health care providers warned that proposed cuts in Missouri’s mental health and social service budgets would endanger children, senior citizens and the state’s economy.

Missouri HealthVoice said Tuesday that proposals being considered by state lawmakers would remove 68,000 Missourians from Medicaid eligibility. The group also released the results of a statewide poll of residents that found strong opposition to cuts in government health programs for low-income children and the elderly.

In a video news conference in Columbia that was broadcast in four other cities, the coalition launched an educational campaign that, according to a press release, asks residents to “encourage their legislators to protect health care for those who need it most.”

Jennifer Hill, the campaign’s director, said that the budget should not be balanced on the backs of the poor.

“It’s easy to chastise and vilify those who have no voice,” Hill told about 20 people who gathered at the Academic Support Center at MU. “We will speak for those who have no voice.”

The news conference was sponsored by the Missouri Budget Project and the Missouri Coalition for Budget and Policy Priorities. Both groups focus on advocacy and public awareness of issues that affect the poor.

Hill said Missouri HealthVoice’s opposition to the budget cuts mirrors the feelings of Missourians. The coalition cited a poll of 600 randomly selected registered voters, conducted by the national polling firm Lake, Snell and Perry.

Celinda Lake, the firm’s president said the poll results suggested the issue of child and senior coverage was not an economic issue to Missourians but a moral one.

“The results reinforced Missouri and personal values,” Lake said. “You don’t see numbers like this in a policy debate.”

The poll, which was prepared for the Missouri Foundation for Health, a nonprofit group that seeks to increase access to health care for the uninsured and underinsured, found that the consequences of Medicaid cuts were far more important, even among more conservative voters, than the economic impact the cuts would have on the state.

The proposed cuts, HealthVoice said, would cost the state more than 2,300 jobs, $173 million in economic activity, $84 million in wages and $6.2 million in tax revenue. It would also mean a loss of federal funds, including $139 million for Medicaid.

Rep. Jodi Stefanick, R-Ballwin, sponsor of a House bill that would make optional health care benefits subject to appropriations, said Medicaid should be reserved for those in extreme financial trouble. She said early surveys of her constituents show a need to tighten eligibility requirements.

“We are getting to a point where we are handing out Medicaid cards, but the program is lacking in quality and access,” Stefanick said. “We are cheating the folks who really need help.”

Stefanick said the bill aims to ensure that coverage and eligibility remain optional and that lawmakers would be able to appropriate funding for care that is fiscally reasonable.

Cindi Keele, the executive director of the Missouri National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said the proposed cuts would contribute to problems associated with mental illness, such as suicide, emergency room visits and homelessness.

“This has the potential to cut back to only that which is federally mandated, which is almost nil,” Keele said. “It’s very difficult to see the rational and justification.”

Angela Percival, a custodial parent who relies on Missouri’s managed care program for kids, MC Plus, said she has been visiting and calling legislators to express her displeasure with the proposed cuts.

“It’s shocking that they are still considering them after rallies and actions,” Percival said. “It’s going to be a state with a lot of sick people.”

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