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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Why Expand Medicaid? "It's the Smart Thing to do," Gov. Nixon says

Gov. Nixon promoting Medicaid expansion at Springfield's Jordan Valley Community Health Center in December/Credit: Scott Harvey

On the third stop of a three city tour Thursday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon reiterated his support for expanding Medicaid, indicating his budget plan for Fiscal Year 2014 will include federal funding that will provide health care for uninsured Missourians; an estimated 300,000 men, women and children. KSMU’s Scott Harvey was at the Springfield event and has this report.

“The Affordable Care Act allows for an expansion of Medicaid to cover millions of Americans who can’t afford health insurance. This is not the time to reopen the debate or reargue the merits of this act. Congress passed it, the President signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it. It’s the law of the land,” Nixon said.

But the state’s Senate leader, Republican Tom Dempsey, says Nixon’s plan is “very unlikely” to pass. He was among several Republicans Thursday to criticize the Governor’s remarks. So how will Nixon strike a deal? The Governor says it’s time to move beyond the politics.

“I don’t think most people when they’re sick or they have needs think about whether the doctor or nurse that they’re going to see is a Democrat or Republican. And I do think that clearly over the last year or so these issues have been looked at in a prism of politics. And that’s why we’re starting today, and working with this very empowered group, and groups like this all throughout the state, to educate and move forward.”

Nixon, speaking at Springfield’s Jordan Valley Community Health Center, was referring to the crowd of hospital and clinic leaders in attendance. People like Joe Pierle, CEO of the Missouri Primary Care Association and chair of the Coalition for Healthy Economic Growth.

“[As] community health centers, we serve thousands of uninsured folks around the state who really have a hard time accessing care on an everyday basis. And study after study shows that when somebody has health coverage, they’re more likely to have an easier time getting in to get preventative care, wellness care, and even life-saving treatments,” Pierle said.

Federal funding would cover 100 percent of the costs for calendar years 2014, 2015 and 2016. Costs to the state would begin the following year, starting at five percent and reaching 10 percent by 2020.

In a statement, Missouri’s Republican House Speaker, Tim Jones said he’s not willing to pass a program “just for the immediate results while leaving someone else to pay for it down the road,” and that the focus should be jobs. Jones added that expanding welfare without a plan to pay for it “would only make Missouri less competitive for new jobs.”

Governor Nixon, referring to a Missouri Hospital Association study released Wednesday, said that expanding Medicaid will create 24,000 new jobs in 2014 alone.

“I think that the 24,000 additional jobs in the first year off yesterday’s study is a baseline of what could happen. Not a ceiling, but a floor,” Nixon said.

Citizens like Nancy Howard of Springfield, who conducts in-home care for Medicaid patients, wonders how health care employees will be affected.

“Are the people that are working going to be impacted by trying to provide this extra health care for these 300,000 people in Missouri?”

Howard’s husband doesn’t have health insurance.

“We’re told that if he does not choose to get it that he’s going to be penalized some amount of money each month,” said Howard.

Governor Nixon says expanding Medicaid will allow more Missourians to receive timely preventative services like immunizations, prenatal checkups and cancer screenings, in addition to high-quality health care in hospitals, FQHCs, clinics and rural health care centers across the state.

Missouri lawmakers will take up the issue during the 2013 legislative session, which convenes January 9.

For KSMU news, I’m Scott Harvey.