Columbia Public School Superintendent Peter Stiepleman

Columbia Public School Superintendent Peter Stiepleman.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, Missouri voters will consider a statewide ballot measure to join 37 other states and expand Medicaid.

I write this as a private citizen, a father of three and as an educator living and working in Missouri for more than 15 years. Voting YES on Amendment 2 would positively impact Missouri’s children and their families and improve the state’s overall health and economy.

Expanding Medicaid will deliver health care to thousands of hardworking Missourians whose jobs don’t provide health insurance, including workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, restaurant staff, delivery drivers and other essential workers.

If there is legislation that has obvious benefits for children and families, then state lawmakers should pursue it. If there is legislation that could improve funding at the state level, then it is reasonable to wonder why state lawmakers are so hesitant.

Missouri legislators have opposed Medicaid expansion for the past decade, and the argument against it is that state spending on Medicaid expansion would mean less money for highways and public education.

The truth is Missourians have already been paying for Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion would ensure Missouri would be getting back more than $1 billion of our federal funding tax dollars each year.

That federal money would create significant savings in the state budget, freeing up general revenues for other priorities such as education.

Expansion states like Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Michigan and Montana have similarly realized significant cost savings. In Virginia, new federal funding from Medicaid expansion freed up enough money to pay for a teacher pay raise and a $540 million addition to K-12 general revenue funds.

And while I write this as a private citizen, I, too, am an educator. It’s clear that increased access to care improves both health and educational outcomes. Children with health coverage miss fewer days of school, and when they do get sick, their illnesses are shorter.

They’re more likely to receive treatment for mental and behavioral health issues, and their asthma or diabetes is more likely to be managed. Predictably, their graduation rates (high school and college) are higher, as are their wages and overall earnings as adults.

Medicaid expansion means reduced medical debt, bankruptcies and evictions, which leads to more financially stable homes. When families don’t have to make choices between rent or medication, cycles of poverty are more likely to be broken.

Rates of child abuse and neglect have fallen faster in Medicaid expansion states than in non-expansion states, with significant reduction in infant mortality rates and reduced rates of maternal death.

The support for Amendment 2 is far-reaching and diverse. More than 300 organizations have pledged their support, including AARP, the Missouri Catholic Conference, national patient advocacy groups and business groups such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its local affiliates in St. Louis and Kansas City.

It’s a political coalition unlike many I’ve seen in more than 15 years working in Missouri.

Those of us who work with children see firsthand how a family’s overall health and well-being greatly influence their child’s success.

Medicaid expansion would help reach the families of some of the most vulnerable children and at least somewhat even the playing field. I kindly ask that you join me and vote “yes” on Amendment 2 on Aug. 4.

Peter Stiepleman is superintendent of Columbia Public Schools.

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