A small group gathered outside the Phelps County Courthouse Monday night for a candlelight vigil to show they are not giving up on Medicaid expansion in Missouri.


A small group gathered outside the Phelps County Courthouse Monday night for a candlelight vigil to show they are not giving up on Medicaid expansion in Missouri.
Nine people, including local health officials and a representative from Missouri Health Care for All, which held the event, attended. They held flameless candles as Crystal Brigman Mahaney, statewide grassroots organizer with Missouri Health Care for All, spoke about the consequences of the state Legislature’s inaction on Medicaid.
Missouri residents who don’t get health insurance through their job can either qualify for insurance through Medicaid or can pay for insurance through the federal marketplace offered in this state.
However, there is a coverage gap that includes Missouri residents who are too rich for Medicaid but too poor for the health insurance marketplace, meaning they don’t make enough to qualify for subsidies for insurance coverage.
Missouri currently has one of the lowest eligibility rates in the country for Medicaid.
Eligibility for Missouri’s Medicaid program is limited for low-income parents to those earning less than 19 percent of the federal poverty level.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Missouri could expand Medicaid eligibility to residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Closing the coverage gap would save the lives of up to 700 Missourians every year, according to Brigman Mahaney.
That number is based on a 2012 study from Harvard School of Public Health that looked specifically at the effect of state Medicaid expansions on mortality among low-income adults. The figure of 700 is a high estimate, with the low estimate being 218.
Seventy luminarias were placed near the entrance to the courthouse, with each luminaria representing 10 Missourians’ lives that could be saved if the Legislature would expand Medicaid, Brigman Mahaney said.
“What we’re doing tonight is important. Even though there’s just a couple of us, our voices will be heard because this is the right thing to do,” said Amy Beechner-McCarthy, CEO of Your Community Health Center in Rolla.
Beechner-McCarthy said she wishes she could bring state lawmakers into the clinic for a day to see who they’re saying no to, including local families, by failing to act on Medicaid expansion.
“They’re saying no to a woman who came into our clinic that if she would’ve had an earlier diagnosis, she might have not received a stage 4 diagnosis of breast cancer,” she said. “They’re saying no to a grandpa who will probably lose his job because he’ll lose his leg to diabetes as he wasn’t diagnosed sooner.”
Missouri Health Care for All held a similar candlelight vigil in Joplin in January and has held other events in southwest Missouri. Brigman Mahaney said efforts to spread the word have “amped up” again after the Legislature’s spring break. The last day of the Missouri legislative session is May 15.
Brigman Mahaney said Rolla was chosen as a site to hold a vigil for many reasons, including that she feels state Sen. Dan Brown (R-Rolla) has been a “road block” to Medicaid expansion in past sessions. Brown was not available for comment as of press time.
Brigman Mahaney estimated that there were about 3,105 Phelps County residents as of 2012 who could benefit from Medicaid expansion and about 11,942 residents under the age of 65 living in Brown’s district, who were uninsured as of 2012 and eligible for coverage under Medicaid expansion.
Brigman Mahaney, who was speaking at the courthouse steps, blocks away from Brown’s veterinarian office, called on Brown “do the right thing and prioritize people over politics.”
Jodi Waltman, administrator of the Phelps/Maries County health department, said she believes Republicans are for economic growth and jobs and noted that health care is one of the leading industries in Missouri.  
Brigman Mahaney urged attendees to contact their legislators about support for Medicaid expansion.
The public also can sign an online petition at http://bit.ly/Medicaid2015.