Dozens gathered in Kansas City Friday to voice their anger at Gov. Mike Parson’s decision not to expand Medicaid in spite of the fact that Missouri voters approved a state constitutional amendment for it.
During a rally at Trinity United Methodist Church, speakers urged a crowd of about 75 people to take direct action to push the governor and Missouri lawmakers to provide health care to the poor and the elderly. The rally was organized by Missouri Jobs with Justice, a statewide advocacy group concerned with health care, economic justice and workers’ rights.
Organizers also included a coalition of civil rights organizations, health care providers, church groups and others. Similar rallies were scheduled to take place in St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia, Joplin, Vernon County, Jefferson County and elsewhere in the state.
In Kansas City, several at the rally hoisted protest signs reading “Respect Our Vote,” “Medicaid Save Lives” and “The people have spoken . . . Is Jeff City listening?”
“We are too rich. We are too wealthy of a nation not to provide access to basic and quality health care for every person, Black and white, red and yellow, rich and poor, working and unemployed,” said the Rev. Vernon P. Howard Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
“We will not be silent. We will not back down and we will continue to fight for what is right,” he said.
Howard and other speakers said Medicaid expansion would ensure that 275,000 Missourians have health care benefits. Efforts to expand Medicaid began years ago when a multiracial, interfaith group protested inside the rotunda of the Missouri Capitol.
“We refuse to be silent amid a legislature, and a state that will not recognize the vote and the voice of the people of the state of Missouri,” Howard said.
On Thursday, Parson said his administration had alerted the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, that the state was dropping expansion. Missouri had previously filed paperwork with the agency that would have set the framework for raising eligibility in July.
The Republican-led General Assembly had sent Parson a budget that did not include funding for Medicaid expansion. It would have cost Missouri at least $130 million a year, which raised concerns among conservative lawmakers, but would have come with $1.6 billion from the federal government.
The amendment requires expansion to begin in July, but with the issue before the court there is no guarantee that expansion will occur.
Under the measure, voters decided to raise eligibility for the programs to adults making up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or $17,700 a year for a single adult.
The Rev. Tex Sample, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, urged people at Friday’s event to get involved.
“This is a time for anger, but cool anger, the kind of anger that goes to work, the kind of anger that organizes,” Sample said.
Another speaker, Terrance Wise, an organizer for the worker advocacy group Stand Up KC, said he had marked July 1 on his calendar as a reminder to sign himself and his three daughters up for the expanded Medicaid.
But that is no longer an option because of the actions taken by Parson and state lawmakers.
Wise, 41, admitted to the crowd that he had not visited a doctor’s office since he was 18 years old because he lacked adequate health care coverage.
“Well, what do you do if you get sick or hurt?” Wise said. “I hope and pray. And for the last 20 years, that’s all I’ve been able to do. But it’s time to put our prayers and hopes into action by making sure everyone has health care.”
After the rally, Sample said the coalition will continue to press Parson and Missouri lawmakers to fulfill the will of voters and move forward with Medicaid expansion.
“We’re going to make it known that you folks are out of touch,” he said.
The Star’s Jeanne Kuang and Jonathan Shorman contributed to this report.