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Missourians to vote on Medicaid expansion as crisis leaves millions without insurance

Cara Anthony, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

ST. LOUIS -- Haley Organ thought she had everything figured out. After graduating from a small private college just outside Boston, she earned her master's degree, entered the workforce and eventually landed a corporate job here as a data analyst.

Life seemed to be going as planned until the national retailer that Organ worked for announced furloughs during the coronavirus pandemic. After nine weeks of mandatory leave, the 35-year-old was laid off. The company gave her a severance package and put an expiration date on her health insurance plan.

"I haven't slept the whole night since about March," Organ said earlier this summer. "I can't turn my brain off, just worrying about everything."

Organ filed for unemployment, adding her claim to more than 40 million others nationwide since the pandemic took hold in mid-March, according to the Department of Labor. That's about 1 in 4 U.S. workers. As a result of the unemployment crisis, millions of people lost access to their private health insurance plans at a time when they might need it most.

Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for people with low incomes or disabilities, could have served as a safety net for Organ if she lived in one of the 38 states that have opted to expand under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. But in Missouri, Republicans who control both the governor's office and the Legislature have said the state cannot afford its share of the cost of expansion and have been adamant foes of the ACA, helping lead a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court that may nullify the law.

That opposition by state leaders has meant adults such as Organ who don't have dependent children or specific disabilities cannot qualify for Missouri's Medicaid program -- even if their incomes are well below the poverty line.

 

"This is literally the first time in my life I've had to worry about health care coverage," Organ said. "It's kind of been a rude awakening for me."

Voters in Missouri will decide Tuesday whether to expand eligibility for MO HealthNet program (Missouri's Medicaid program) to provide insurance to more than 230,000 additional people in the state, including many who find themselves newly struggling for health coverage amid a national health crisis. More than 700,000 initial unemployment claims were reported in Missouri from mid-March through the first week of July.

If Medicaid expansion passes in Missouri, coverage for those newly eligible people would begin in 2021. Advocates for the measure say Medicaid expansion would also create jobs, protect hospitals from budget cuts and bring billions of federal taxpayer dollars back to the state.

Missouri is the latest red state to try expanding Medicaid with a ballot measure to circumvent recalcitrant legislatures. Oklahoma approved a measure June 30.

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