Activists Across The Country Beg GOP Leaders To Expand Medicaid

Kamalah Fletcher wears a medical mask over her face saying “No Coverage = Death” during a protest in support of Florida lawmakers expanding the eligibility criteria for Medicaid CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LYNNE SLADKY
Kamalah Fletcher wears a medical mask over her face saying “No Coverage = Death” during a protest in support of Florida lawmakers expanding the eligibility criteria for Medicaid CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LYNNE SLADKY

As the 2015 legislative session kicks off, health care activists in states across the country are turning their attention back to convincing their lawmakers to fully implement Obamacare.

Twenty three states have not yet moved forward with the law’s Medicaid expansion, which seeks to extend insurance coverage to additional low-income Americans. Those states are governed by Republicans who have been wary to cooperate with any aspect of health reform, despite the fact that they’re home to a disproportionately high rate of uninsured residents.

In Missouri, faith leaders and educators rallied at the state capitol this week as the legislature returned to work. Demonstrators said they’re tired of state lawmakers delaying a vote on Medicaid expansion, particularly because denying impoverished people access to coverage can have serious consequences.

Rev. Emmett Baker, who heads a Baptist church in the state, said his daughter recently died of a blood clot that would have been evident at a regular check-up if she had been able to afford to go to a doctor. But she didn’t qualify for Medicaid, and couldn’t pay for private insurance. “Too many people are dying just for that simple reason,” Baker said.

In Florida, activists hosted a “Day of Action” on Thursday with events in several cities designed to bring the issue of Medicaid expansion to the forefront. They’re optimistic that lawmakers will finally agree to accept the optional expansion this year, particularly since a federal judge recently ruled that Florida’s low Medicaid budget has illegally deprived low-income children of access to health services.

Some of the protesters who gathered in Miami painted black circles under their eyes to make it look like they were sick. Others wore medical fask masks proclaiming “no coverage equals death.”

Other proponents of the policy are using research materials to try to convince their lawmakers to expand Medicaid. A state task force in Texas released a report this week showing that accepting the expansion would cover an estimated one million people. Meanwhile, the Kansas Hospital Organization — which is concerned that hospitals will struggle financially without more Medicaid reimbursements — developed its own Medicaid expansion proposal to pitch to lawmakers this session.

The recent midterm election was somewhat of a setback for Medicaid supporters, since the outcome of key gubernatorial races didn’t result in additional leaders in favor of the policy. Nonetheless, 2015 may ultimately result in gains for Obamacare advocates. The federal government has increasingly allowed states to have the flexibility to design their own expansion plans. Some GOP leaders are beginning to forge ahead with compromises to traditional Medicaid expansion, like privatized plans to extend coverage to their uninsured populations.

There have been some recent signs that this is paying off. Just this week, several Republican governors met with President Obama to discuss a way forward on Medicaid expansion. Govs. Pat McCrory (R-NC) and Gary Herbert (R-UT) told reporters they believe the Department of Health and Human Services will work with them on their alternative plans to implement the reform.

In the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, millions of low-income people have been locked out of affordable health care. According to a recent analysis from the New York Times, that’s keeping the national uninsurance rate at least two percentage points higher than it would be otherwise.