JEFFERSON CITY — On Monday, Senate leaders will get their first look at a proposal to drastically cut Medicaid, the federally backed health insurance program for the poor and disabled.
On Friday, though, it was the people’s turn.
Roughly 200 single parents, teens in drug treatment, fixed-income retirees, wheelchair users and other concerned Medicaid recipients came from St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and beyond.
Their voices echoed from the southern steps of the Capitol to the front door of the governor’s mansion, where the rally climaxed in protest, prayer and testimony from individuals whose lives could change significantly without coverage.
Sam Bauer of Columbia attended the rally with his wife. He fears he would lose his motorized scooter, artificial leg and prescription medications that Medicaid has provided him since 1975.
“If you cut everything out, poor people won’t have nothing,” said Bauer, who lost his left leg in a timber accident. “And it’s not worth it — cutting people off — a lot of people need it.”
Grass Roots Organizing, which is based in Mexico, Mo., but has a branch in Columbia, coordinated the event that also drew members of Lane Tabernacle CME Church in St. Louis and the city’s Interfaith Council.
Church member Shawn Guy-Pitts said the state’s budget will be difficult to balance but does not think Gov. Matt Blunt and legislators should rely on cutting Medicaid as the answer.
“We are here to fight for reform and not total eradication,” she said. “Hopefully this will massage the hearts of the lawmakers and make them realize that these people need these benefits. This isn’t a luxury. It is a need. It is just wrong to cut it and this could happen to anyone. Rich people could fall from their thrones as well, so we need to take care of each other in order for there to be peace among everyone.”
Robin Acree, GRO director, led the group during the 20-minute protest march, generating passionate and loud responses of, “Move Blunt, get out the way, get out the way Blunt, get out the way,” and “March forth for health care, march forth for jobs, march forth for freedom first, the people are being robbed.”
Amy Blouin of the Missouri Budget Project, a state government watchdog, also spoke on the negative economic impact of cutting Medicaid. Though the state hopes to save $200 million through the cuts, it could simultaneously forfeit more than $400 million in federal funds that match state spending.
The governor needs to recognize the economic development Medicaid brings, she said.
“Medicaid is not the problem with the state’s budget. The problem is health care costs are increasing throughout the nation — that is why Medicaid costs are increasing,” Blouin said. “But Medicaid is doing a better job of keeping costs down than health care in general. We also need to admit that Medicaid didn’t create the state’s budget crisis.”
In 2004, Missouri spent millions less than it did 2001, according to figures provided by the Missouri Budget Project. Organizers said that shows the issue isn’t spending but rather related to insufficient revenue base, which could be raised through several options.
The organization conducted a study that found by closing corporate tax loopholes, utilizing the state’s rainy day fund and eliminating the HMO premium tax exemption — among other options — Missouri could raise $2 billion to close the budget gap and ensure low-income individuals maintain access to health care.