On August 4, Missouri voters passed Amendment 2 to expand Medicaid in Missouri, joining the 37 other states plus the District of Columbia that have opted for expansion. Now, some 230,000 Missourians will have access to affordable health care. The impact of Medicaid expansion has been well-documented in other states so we know what to expect in Missouri.
The economic benefit is undeniable. The federal government will pay for nine out of every 10 dollars spent on the expansion. Missouri will thus receive a substantial influx of federal funds, bringing our tax dollars back to Missouri and spurring economic growth throughout the state.
This growth couldn’t come at a more needed time. Missouri’s health and economy are reeling from COVID-19.
These new funds will first go to doctors’ offices, community health centers, hospitals, and pharmacies to provide medical care. These health care providers, who have been struggling during the COVID crisis, will receive a much-needed infusion of federal funds, and the additional financial resources will then ripple out to other businesses and workers, boosting our weakened economy.
The expansion will also have a positive impact on our state budget. Some uninsured individuals who now receive solely state-funded health services will obtain federally funded Medicaid coverage. In this and other ways, Missouri will free up state dollars for education, infrastructure, and other important services.
Medicaid expansion supports work by expanding access to care. People who are healthy are better able to secure and maintain employment. Studies show that Medicaid expansion enables people with disabilities to enter the workforce and increase their earnings while maintaining health coverage. Similarly, Medicaid expansion encourages low-income parents to work, as they are no longer forced to choose between health care coverage and minimum or low-wage employment. Further, Medicaid expansion alleviates the crushing burden of medical debt for thousands of families.
The most important benefit, however, is perhaps the most obvious: the positive impact on people’s health. It is a simple fact, backed by dozens of studies, that Medicaid expansion improves access to health care and health outcomes while reducing racial disparities. At Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, we see these benefits every day. We have helped individuals obtain access to this important program for decades – long before there was an Affordable Care Act or an Amendment 2. Medicaid helps our clients receive medically necessary and in some cases lifesaving treatments.
For example, Medicaid has paid for a life-saving and curative liver transplant for a child with a very rare genetic disorder. Medicaid has paid for direct-acting anti-viral medications that cure Hepatitis C, which can be fatal in advanced stages. Medicaid also pays for routine but medically necessary medications and surgeries and other important services such as home health, mental health treatment, skilled nursing, chemotherapy and radiation. It pays for young children’s necessary immunizations, preventative care, therapies, psychiatric visits and other treatment that helps them stay in school.
Based on this experience, it is no surprise that a recent study reported Medicaid expansion has already saved more than 19,000 lives. Thanks to Medicaid expansion, an estimated 230,000 more low-income Missourians will now have access to these same medically necessary and life- saving health services.
Ensuring access to healthcare is especially important during the current public health crisis. The expansion of Medicaid will also assure that Missourians can afford COVID-19 testing and, if they are infected, medical care. Equally important, it will help pay for vaccines, when they become available.
It is painfully evident that Black and Latinx Missourians are disproportionately affected by COVID and other diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. For example, Black Missourians’ deaths from COVID-19 are more than two times greater than would be expected based on their share of Missouri’s population. Medicaid expansion will help fight racial inequity in Missouri.
The gap in uninsured rates between white and Black adults and between white and Hispanic adults shrank substantially in expansion states.For all these reasons, it is important that Missouri’s new constitutional requirement is implemented smoothly so eligible individuals are made aware of and enrolled in the program.
Ensuring that eligible individuals receive Medicaid will provide access to care, improve health outcomes and save lives. Our decades of experience at Legal Services confirm these results. We look forward to working with our community partners to help newly insured Missourians get these important benefits and access the health care they need to survive and thrive.
Joel Ferber is the director of Advocacy, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. He can be reached at Jdferber@lsem.org or 314-256-8702.