Health Care in Missouri
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Health Care in Missouri

Date: October 7, 2008
By: Rebecca Beitsch
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Larry Stephens found out he had lost his Medicaid when he went to get his motorized wheelchair fixed.

"My friend works at the store, and she went to go pull up my information in the computer. Then she just tells me, 'Larry, your Medicaid is inactive,'" Larry said.

It wasn't until his caseworker called him that he realized it was no mistake.

The 41-year-old resident of Nixa has cerebral palsy. Stephens works to support his family of four with the $200 he earns at a workshop for disabled people. His wife Julie is the breadwinner of the family.

Larry said he recently got some bad news -- he will lose government-funded coverage for the insulin he needs to keep his diabetes in check.

"I do the best I can," said Larry. "Sometimes I don't take my medicine because I just can't afford it," he continued. But Larry knows he can't skip his insulin without incurring even more serious health problems.

Gov. Matt Blunt's 2005 Medicaid cuts took 94,850 off Missouri's Medicaid program. These cuts left another 300,000 with only partial coverage, according to the Department of Social Services.

Julie Stephens said she has not had a health care plan since she was in college. She works 39 hours a week as a home care attendant for an autistic woman. She describes her job as often being in contention with her life. She provides care when she does not have health care; she looks after someone with autism while her own son copes with the same disease.

"We're helping other people, but who's going to help us?" Julie asked.

Julie is just one of many Missourians without health care. According to the Census Bureau's 2007 data and the Social Services Department, there are currently 729,000 uninsured Missourians, roughly 12 percent of the state population. Among the uninsured, 150,000 Missouri children do not have health care coverage, meaning 1 in 10 are not insured.  

The Stephen's children do receive coverage under Medicaid; but Julie is not covered under any of the state's programs.  Julie, who has Fibromyalgia and lung problems, said she has had to skip some of her 13 medications: inhalers, steroids, and anti-inflammatories.

Although MO Health Net, the state's Medicaid program, provides coverage to some 833,112 people, efforts made to create other state programs to provide health care coverage to Missourians have failed in Missouri's legislature.

In the fall of 2007, Gov. Matt Blunt proposed Insure Missouri to provide health care to more than 200,000 lower income workers.   

Although the measure met with stiff opposition from fellow Republicans in the legislature, a similar approach for expanded health-care coverage emerged in the Senate from Sen. Tom Dempsey, R- St. Charles County.  Dempsey's measure cleared the Senate but died  in the House.  

The chair of the House Healthcare Transformation Committee -- Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph -- refused to bring the bill to the floor unless the bill included provisions to ease state controls over expansion of medical facilities.

Behind the debate over expanded health care coverage lies federal provisions that assure every persons can get emergency medical treatment when necessary.  But health advocates say that level of coverage does not provide preventive care nor continuity of care.

The Stephens' try to stick with their original doctors, who they said have been very helpful in addressing their medical needs, even if they cannot afford the care.

What weighs most heavily on the family's mind though, is what to do in January.

 Candidate Positions on Health Care Coverage

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Hubbard said there needs to be more options for purchasers and the government should encourage this expansion. He does not support requiring every person who can afford health care to have it.

Candidates for State Treasurer

"It's unreasonable to even begin worrying about mandates, when health care isn't even accessible to so many Missourians," Zweifel said. "We need to increase access first."

Candidates for Attorney General