JEFFERSON CITY — Protesters dumped a large trash bin full of prosthetic limbs, discarded walkers and empty prescription bottles in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday to demonstrate their disdain for Medicaid cuts proposed in Gov. Matt Blunt’s budget for fiscal 2006.
The spectacle was intended to call attention to Blunt’s proposal to eliminate Medicaid coverage for durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs. Participants at the rally said Blunt’s plan suggests such equipment is refuse that the state need not fund.
State Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, took the opportunity to attack Blunt’s proposed cuts.
“Our governor chose, in my opinion, the most negative way to attack Medicaid,” Shoemyer said. “We spent 70 years developing a social contract, one that said I’ll watch your back if you’ll watch mine. The social contract today is under attack.”
Blunt’s proposal, in addition to cutting durable medical equipment, calls for changing Medicaid eligibility requirements so that only those whose income is 30 percent or less of the federal poverty level would be able to receive the health-care assistance.
During a news conference earlier in the day, Blunt explained why he thinks the cuts are necessary.
“The question here is: ‘What sort of social welfare system can Missourians afford?’ We have to make some changes to get costs under control within state government,” Blunt said. “And the only way to increase funding for public schools and hold the line on taxes is to reduce government spending, and that includes government spending within social welfare programs.”
Blunt said that he is offering the Missouri General Assembly recommendations for how to improve Medicaid programs.
“Even after we make all those changes, 15 percent of the people in Missouri will be on Medicaid,” Blunt said. “That is a very generous social-welfare program that Missouri taxpayers will continue to fund.”
Bobette Figler of St. Louis is a Medicaid recipient suffering from multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis, a disorder that affects the muscles and requires her to use a wheelchair. She attended the event with her dog, Flint.
Figler said state health programs helped her overcome her disabilities. “They gave me the inspiration to fight, to know that my life was worth living,” she said.
Figler said she was once on a respirator and unable to speak or swallow. Eventually, she was able to go back to school with state help.
“By the grace of God and this program I was able to return to work four years ago,” she said.
Robin Acree, who orchestrated the rally, introduced the speakers in front a pile of medical equipment. She vowed the demonstration would not be the last time opponents of the cuts would make their voices heard.
“We are not a waste,” she said. “We are valuable.”