Group backs healthcare reform
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Group backs healthcare reform

Date: March 1, 2007
By: Gavin Off
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In 1997, doctors diagnosed Richard Green with multiple sclerosis.

About five years later, Green's employer of 20 years fired the wheelchair-bound Ozark resident. Green said he became too expensive for the company to employ.

Thursday, the 40-year-old single father of three lost his Medicaid coverage. His monthly $1,350 disability payment began this week and exceeded Medicaid's minimum earnings limit.

Green said $710 of his monthly check pays for medications. The remaining $640 pays for his family's needs.

"How could you live on that," Green said.

Green joined the advocacy group First Things First Campaign in the Capitol Thursday in support of companion bills that would restore health care coverage to those cut from the system two years ago. The state's 2005 Medicaid cuts eliminated or reduced benefits for some 300,000 Missouri residents.

Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said the cuts also eliminated Medicaid benefits for some 80,000 people who were collecting payments even though they didn't qualify.

They also helped solve Missouri's budget woes, supporters said.

"Were they necessary, yes," Shields said. "Did they hurt, yea. But you had the potential that you couldn't sustain the system."

Shields is sponsoring a bill that seeks to restructure Medicaid coverage in an effort to reduce rising costs. The bill includes incentives for residents who make health-minded choices, that might include quitting smoking and losing weight. But the plan would not restore the coverage lost in 2005.

That's little solace to Green, who because of the cuts cannot afford a patient lift, which would help him get from his wheelchair and into the bed and shower and onto the toilet. The lift costs $5,000, Green said.

His children now help him with the day's routine activities.

Green is backing a bill sponsored by Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, that would return eligibility to the state's Medicaid program and Medicaid services to those cut from the system in 2005. The bill would also repeal the June 2008 sunset provisions for the state's Medicaid provision and the state's health care for uninsured program.

Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, filed a companion bill Thursday.

Baker said the cuts left 177,000 more Missourians without health care. And now that the state has a budget surplus, she called for legislators to reverse the cuts.

"We're asking for something very, very simple," Baker said. "We're asking the governor puts first things first. Before we give tax cuts to the wealthy, let's give health care to those who have no other options."

Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, said the 2005 cuts replaced a 40-year-old system, and that the cuts saved Medicaid

Shields said he was optimistic health care could be made available to everyone, but added the state shouldn't begin a "gigantic, government-run health care system."

"We would like to see available, affordable health care for all Missourians," Shields said. "That means Medicare plays a role, Medicaid plays a role and private insurance plays a role."

Missourians such as Green are waiting.

Green said he already drained his 401K account and said working would be difficult since he'd lose the benefits he was able to keep. 

Without his family, friends and church, Green said he and his children would be homeless.

"All of us are a disease or an accident away from being in the position I'm in," Green said. "It's a vacuum that just sucks you in."