August 4 Vote on Medicaid Expansion Is an Opportunity We Can’t Afford to Miss

By Betty Drees, MD, president, Kansas City Medical Society and Stephen Salanski, MD, chair, Kansas City Medical Society Foundation

On August 4, Missouri voters will have a unique opportunity to make a huge impact on the health of our citizens, our economy and our communities.

That is when we will decide whether we will join 37 other states—including most recently Oklahoma—to expand our state Medicaid program. The proposal is Constitutional Amendment 2.

As physicians, every day we see patients who have gone without or delayed needed medical care because they couldn’t afford it. Or they haven’t taken their prescription medications because the expense is too much. It hurts us to see patients whose conditions have worsened—or even become untreatable—because they don’t have the means to pay for care. Examples are delays in cancer diagnosis and complications from diabetes that goes untreated.

Expanding Medicaid would provide access to care for over 200,000 Missourians who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid now but can’t afford to purchase health insurance on their own. It will enable more people to obtain care earlier in the disease process—saving both the human and financial cost of advanced disease. Expanding Medicaid will help keep more people healthy and working. That’s good for our families and our economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the need for Medicaid expansion. A new study by Families USA estimates that 100,000 Missouri adults have lost their health insurance between February and May 2020 due to job loss. This leaves 17% of Missouri adults uninsured today compared to 14% in 2018. The median commercial charge for a COVID-19 hospitalization is $45,000, a crippling price for a person without insurance.

Expanding Medicaid makes fiscal sense. Missouri will gain 16,000 jobs not only in health care but in other industries, and bring in over a billion dollars in economic benefit annually. Amendment 2 has been endorsed by the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, other leading business organizations, and the Missouri State Medical Association.

Missourians are already paying for Medicaid expansion—in other states. Right now, our tax dollars are going to Washington to pay for health care in states where Medicaid has been expanded. It’s time to stop this giveaway and put our tax dollars to work here where they are sorely needed.

Over the past six years, we have seen 10 rural hospitals close across Missouri, denying accessible care to local residents and shutting down a major employer in those communities. With the increased financial pressures on hospitals from the COVID-19 pandemic, more rural hospitals could be at risk.

For all these reasons, the Kansas City Medical Society and the Kansas City Medical Society Foundation strongly endorse Medicaid expansion and Amendment 2.

We need Medicaid expansion more than ever to help protect the health of our vulnerable citizens.

This is why the August 4 vote on Amendment 2 is so important. Quite simply, Medicaid expansion represents an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.