Gary Peterson needs to become a household name.
Peterson lives in Raytown. In September, he submitted a petition to the Missouri secretary of state’s office seeking a statewide vote next November on expanding Medicaid health insurance in the state.
“It’s not going to go anywhere as long as the Republicans are in charge,” Peterson told The Star Wednesday. “So I thought, why not let this go to the people?”
We agree. And there’s now a useful model for how it could work: Maine.
On Tuesday, the state’s voters approved Medicaid expansion by an enormous 18-point margin. The proposal was placed before the state’s voters by a petition drive, bypassing recalcitrant GOP legislators and controversial Gov. Paul LePage.
If she can do so, an estimated 70,000 people in Maine should get health coverage sometime next year.
It’s increasingly clear Missouri has erred by failing to expand Medicaid for low-income residents. By some estimates, more than 200,000 Missourians who now lack health coverage could qualify for the federal-state program if Missouri expanded eligibility.
Yet Gov. Eric Greitens and the state’s Republican lawmakers have refused to allow Medicaid expansion to go forward. They claim it’s too expensive.
Really? The fiscal note for the Medicaid expansion petition says the program would cost $2 billion — but Washington would pay $1.8 billion of that. Only $200 million would eventually come from state taxpayers.
That’s less than 1 percent of the state’s $27 billion budget.
And that doesn’t tell the whole story. Because Missouri’s health care industry would likely grow, state revenue might increase enough to cover any additional cost. Other efficiencies might actually save taxpayer money.
Rural hospitals that are facing reductions in staff or closure would have additional funds to stay open. Oh, and Missouri would be a healthier state.
Expansion opponents in Missouri believe Congress and the White House will repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act. For now, it looks like Washington will leave Obamacare largely intact, making that excuse moot.
We believe Missouri should expand Medicaid. Gary Peterson’s petition is a place to start.
Gathering petition signatures is arduous and expensive. It will take roughly 100,000 valid signatures, equally distributed among six of the state’s eight congressional districts, to put Medicaid expansion on the 2018 ballot. The deadline is May.
Peterson says he’s been in contact with several social service agencies and churches about his petition drive, but the plain truth is he will need more help. Advocates for expanding Medicaid in Missouri should reach out to Peterson, help him gather the needed signatures and bring the issue to a vote.
“As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” an old adage claims. On Tuesday, Maine showed the nation that voters, given a choice, will endorse expanding Medicaid.
Missouri’s voters should have a chance to weigh in as well.