Missouri Health Care for All (MHCFA) and healthcare advocates throughout the state want voters to decide on whether to expand Medicaid in Missouri, announcing on Wednesday the launch of Healthcare for Missouri, a campaign to expand Medicaid statewide.

The growing coalition of doctors, nurses, patients, business executives and healthcare supporters behind the campaign must now collect more than 172,000 signatures from voters for the measure to be on the November 2020 ballot. MHCFA is Missouri’s permanent, statewide, health, advocacy organization, that has been an unwavering supporter and leader of Medicaid expansion efforts since 2012. The organization’s leaders and members will play an active role in supporting the campaign, beginning with signature gathering across the state, Executive Director of MHCFA Jen Bersdale says.

“Every story heard from a Missourian who is suffering because they can’t get healthcare strengthens our resolve,” Bersdale says. “After years of inaction by the Missouri General Assembly, we are thrilled to reach this moment, when a broad and powerful coalition of Medicaid expansion supporters can at last say, ‘we are bringing this straight to Missouri voters to decide.’”

As MHCFA has been working with dozens of organizations and individuals over the last seven years to advocate for Medicaid expansion in Missouri, leaders learned that the expansion of Medicaid is broadly supported across geographic, age, income, race and political lines.

Sarah Auxier works as a home healthcare worker in St. James, taking care of her son, Kyle, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Kyle, who has insurance while his mother does not, can only move two fingers and relies on Sarah for his survival. Sarah has had chest pains in the past but has been too afraid to call an ambulance because she can’t afford it. She worries that she’ll get sick and cause Kyle to become deathly ill due to his compromised immune system. She said, “I have to stay healthy. If I get sick, Kyle could get sick. My cold could be his pneumonia. His pneumonia could potentially kill him. I couldn’t live with myself. I have to be able to go to a doctor, and right now I can’t afford it.”

One of the organization’s supporting the effort is the Missouri Hospital Association, and president, Herb Kuhn, says rural areas have been hit particularly hard due to the fact that Missouri has yet to expand Medicaid. Nine rural hospitals in the state have closed since 2014.

“Hospital closures in rural communities have increased the distance to lifesaving care for Missourians suffering from traumatic injuries, stroke and heart attack,”Kuhn says. “Minutes count in medical emergencies. Medicaid expansion will help maintain access to emergency care in rural Missouri — benefiting those gaining coverage and all rural residents.”

Under expansion, Medicaid would be available to those making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is less than $18,000 a year for an individual or $30,000 for a family of three. A study conducted by researchers at Washington University found that expanding Medicaid in Missouri would save $932 million by 2024. A recent financial analysis conducted by the state also found that expansion could save up to a billion dollars by 2024, according to the campaign.

Thirty-six states have already expanded Medicaid. Last year, voters in Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho all approved Medicaid expansion. Healthcare advocates have been exploring whether to move forward with the effort throughout the summer before committing Wednesday to pursue the ballot amendment.