Missouri was facing a healthcare crisis long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state legislators have ignored our demands for increased access to healthcare. Now we’re in uncharted waters, and to make it through this crisis as a community, we must center the voices of those most impacted: black and rural uninsured Missourians.
Fortunately, due to the latest legislative package passed by Congress, testing for COVID-19 is now free. The goal, according to the director of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, is for Missouri to test basically everyone with a cough and a fever over 100.4. For the nearly 600,000 Missourians currently living without health insurance, this is a good start – but if it doesn’t come with a plan for affordable treatment, it’s not nearly enough.
Black Missourians make up 13.9% of the state’s uninsured population, while only totaling 11.8% of our state's total population. While the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the region, it is obvious black communities will bear the brunt of the blow if our elected officials don’t act soon. St. Louis city and county recently released data that illustrates the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases on the north side.
Governor Parson and the state legislature have refused to protect our families. The blatant disregard from our elected officials for the health and well-being of our people is untenable. Our elected officials have decided to drag their feet, and countless lives have been lost. In a moment like this, no individual should be deterred from seeking treatment for fear of crushing medical debt. Our people need Medicaid expansion now.
Under the current eligibility requirements for Medicaid, adults without children are ineligible completely, and a parent with a child can't earn more than $2,900 annually. These ridiculous standards mean that hundreds of thousands of Missourians have fallen into a coverage gap, where they aren’t currently eligible for Medicaid or subsidies offered to offset the cost of private insurance.
The minimum wage in Missouri is $8.60, which means that a full-time minimum wage employee makes an average of $1,200 a month or $15,000 a year. Under Medicaid expansion, any adult who makes $18,000 a year or less will be eligible for Medicaid. The relief this could bring to our state is necessary and urgent. In fact, expanding Medicaid would help over 300,000 families, including the workers who are on the front lines right now cleaning stores, bagging groceries and taking care of our loved ones.
Since 2014, Missouri has denied billions of dollars in federal aid, making the weight of COVID-19 even deadlier for its residents. Rejecting these funds led to the closure of 14 hospitals across Missouri between 2014 and 2019. By refusing to expand Medicaid, our state has lost the resources and infrastructure needed to respond to the current crisis.
Additionally, over 172,000 people were purged from the Medicaid rolls since 2017, despite meeting all eligibility requirements.
Without Medicaid expansion, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to suffer and our hospitals will continue to be overwhelmed. It is Governor Parson’s duty to ensure that receiving care and surviving this pandemic don’t depend on how much money is in your pocket. It is Governor Parson’s duty to ensure our hospitals are adequately funded. It is also Governor Parson’s responsibility to ensure that we are not unnecessarily burdening hospitals and healthcare professionals by not doing our due diligence.
People from all over Missouri have come together to collect enough signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the November ballot. Since our elected officials have failed to protect our families, we must take matters into our own hands and vote to finally expand Medicaid.
Milkayla Allen is the Electoral Justice organizer for Action St. Louis, a grassroots organization focused on building black political power in our region.