Discussion of Medicaid is a night of anger, fear

Legislators have until next Friday to finalize Gov. Blunt’s budget.
Tuesday, May 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Harsh words sounded and tears rolled down the cheeks of community members who met at a community circle gathering Monday to discuss Medicaid cuts signed by Gov. Matt Blunt last week.

A wide circle of chairs and wheelchairs was formed in the Friends Room of the Columbia Public Library so community members could share their fears of potential Medicaid losses and how cuts would affect their disabled and elderly friends and family, and themselves.

“I came directly from dialysis so I could be here tonight,” said Ellen O’Neill, 58, who receives Medicare and Medicaid and is concerned about how cuts might affect her daughter, who has expressive aphasia, a speech impairment caused by a brain lesion.

Dwight Rieman, a retired social worker who receives Medicare, voiced a concern that was repeated throughout the night: “I’ve lived here for 37 years, and I can’t remember a time when it was worse with the insensitivity and disregard for those in need.”

“Our dear governor has had federally paid health care his whole life,” said Lorene Emmerson, 80, commenting on how military and legislative positions held by the governor and his father have provided Blunt with federal health care.

“I don’t see how congressmen can have health care coverage that we pay for, but they won’t vote for ours,” she said.

Blunt says the enormous growth of the Medicaid program, which now covers a million Missourians, made the cuts necessary. The cuts would affect about 100,000 current Medicaid recipients while slashing the state’s budget shortfall of $600 million by more than half.

“The cuts will affect everybody at some level,” said Rosie Umstattd, 53, who is disabled but does not receive Medicaid. “I don’t see it as only a disabled issue, an elderly issue, or a poor issue.”

Kay Strom, director of nursing and clinical services at the Family Health Center on West Boulevard, says half of the patients they see are on Medicaid. Those who lose their coverage would still be seen at the clinic, but would be required to pay on a sliding scale.

Many participants at the gathering proposed alternative sources for budget cuts and planned protests to express their distaste for the governor’s actions.

Christy Stockwell, 46, a single, low-income mother of two, was motivated to take action. She is afraid that her Medicaid will be lost, making it difficult for her to care for her 10-year-old son who has an autoimmune disease.

“He will still be covered,” she said, “but I won’t be if I needed any medical help in order to give the care to one of my twins personally.”

Stockwell paid a baby sitter to watch her twins Monday so she could attend part of the meeting.

State legislators have until Friday to finalize next year’s budget, at which point it will become clear who will be affected by the cuts.

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