Jefferson City – Gov. Jay Nixon hosted a coalition of unions, health care advocates, and religious and business leaders at a rally at the state capitol April 15 supporting the expansion of Medicaid, the health care program aimed at helping pay for medical care and nursing home services for the poor, low-income elderly and the disabled.
The rally attracted more than a thousand supporters, including several hundred union members from around the state. They crowded the hallways of the capitol for most of the day, calling on state lawmakers. The governor organized the coalition to put pressure on lawmakers in every corner of the state.
Nixon exhorted the crowd, which included dozens of doctors, nurses and hospital executives, to talk to Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate, especially their leaders, who oppose the expansion of Medicaid even though the cost of expansion would be paid for the first three years by the federal government as part of the new federal health care program. After that, the state would be required to pick up 10 percent of the cost.
“Your voices down here,” he shouted to the crowd packed into the floor and balconies of the Capitol rotunda, “must be heard up there,” raising his arm and pointing up to the legislative chambers a floor above.
Despite the impressive turnout, lawmakers and lobbyists told the Labor Tribune it was doubtful a Medicaid expansion bill would be passed this year. The Republican Speaker of the House, Timothy Jones of Eureka has expressed adamant opposition and most, if not all, Republican Senators are believed to be against it.
Jones showed his disdain for the issue by adjourning the House at noon, allowing Republicans to be away from
their offices for the afternoon.
Sen. Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City) told the Labor Tribune that support in the senate dwindled recently when the federal government extended its program of financing charity care for hospitals. The program was scheduled to end at the end of the year and Medicaid was expected to pick up the cost of charity care. But the extension of the charity program has taken some pressure off of rural hospitals to press their lawmakers for an expansion of Medicaid.
But having organized such an impressive coalition of grassroots support for expansion, Nixon is obviously not giving up and still believes Republicans may come around if enough public pressure is put on them.
Nixon said called the expansion a unique opportunity to strengthen Medicaid for 300,000 low-income Missourians who can’t afford health insurance, while creating thousands of jobs, and bringing more than $6 billion in federal funds into the state.
Several other persons spoke to the crowd, including Joe Reagan, CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, and Dr. Heidi Miller of the Family Care Center of St. Louis. No one from the labor community was asked to speak.