As a retired medical professional, former state representative and recent presiding Christian County commissioner, I have become increasingly concerned by the recent reports that our major healthcare institutions are having to take steps to cut staff and procedures in order to remain viable. We should no longer simply just watch and tolerate the lack of action from my onetime colleagues.
Far too many hardworking Missouri families are slipping through the cracks in that broken system—forced to choose between paying for lifesaving care and putting food on the table or making a house payment. Families in this coverage gap, most of whom hold down full-time jobs, earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to be able to afford private insurance.
Meanwhile, our rural hospitals continue to close – 10 in the state (and 15 overall) just in the last several years. Four of those were located in southwest Missouri (El Dorado Springs, Mount Vernon, Osceola and Springfield). Many more hospitals remain financially vulnerable, hanging on by a thread.
And what happens when you, your neighbors, or a member of your family suffers the consequences of this health care vacuum? I can assure you there is a solution.
On Nov. 3, voters across the state will be asked to expand Medicaid eligibility to help more than 230,000 hardworking Missourians access affordable healthcare. I am proud to support the Healthcare for Missouri initiative petition and encourage you to as well.
Why? Medicaid expansion will bring more than $1 billion of our tax dollars back from Washington every year. That will help keep rural hospitals open, protect our jobs, and ensure all Missourians have access to healthcare, no matter where they live. It will help people nearing retirement who have lost their insurance, people with chronic medical conditions, and citizens who earn less than $18,000 a year.
This is not a program caught in the political winds anymore. Thirty-six states (including Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska) have already expanded Medicaid, many under Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures, and none have opted out – in no small part due to its positive economic outcomes.
Our state currently rejects $1 billion a year in tax money that is rightfully ours. For years we’ve lost out on that money, which instead is getting sent to states like California to pay for their healthcare and help their economy. That just doesn’t make any sense. Especially in a moment like now, when Missourians really need healthcare and jobs.
Missouri has previously had access to resources using Disproportionate Share Hospitals Allotment (DSH) that would have provided funding for this expansion. That option was never successfully or enthusiastically pursued by the legislature.
Expanding Medicaid has freed up state budget resources elsewhere for investments in education, transportation, public safety and tax cuts, and will do the same in Missouri as we recover from the pandemic. It will also help our friends, families, and neighbors. Health coverage means Missourians have less medical debt, fewer bankruptcies and evictions, and more income to spend on rent, groceries and other services. It makes it easier for employees to stay healthy enough to stay on the job and produce at a high level,
We’ve waited nearly a decade to solve this problem, and we cannot afford to wait any longer. This ballot measure lets Missouri voters decide what’s best, and it ensures politicians respect the will of the people.
Now is the time for voters to make their own decisions about providing adequate, accessible healthcare coverage to fellow Missourians.
Ray Weter is retired cardiovascular perfusionist who served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2004 to 2012, and on the Christian County Commission from 2012 to the end of 2018. He is a native of Sparta and a resident of Fremont Hills.