Missouri Prepares to Cut 100,000 More From Receiving Medicaid Benefits

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Last week, the Missouri state legislature sent Republican Governor Matt Blunt a budget that will eliminate Medicaid coverage for almost 100,000 low-income parents, people with disabilities and elderly people who receive benefits. [includes rush transcript]

Medicaid is the nation’s largest health insurance plan and covers more than 30 million low-income people. But it has become the latest program targeted for deep cuts by the Bush Administration. President Bush has asked Congress for changes in the program that, he says, would save $60 billion over the next decade. And now the state of Missouri has stepped into the forefront of the nation wide effort to eliminate coverage for Medicaid recipients. Last week, the Missouri state legislature sent Republican Governor Matt Blunt a budget that will eliminate Medicaid coverage for almost 100,000 low-income parents, people with disabilities and elderly people who receive benefits. Those most affected will be women who are leaving welfare for work in low-wage jobs and children in the foster care system. For example, a single mother with three children would loose coverage if she made more than $300 a month. Governor Blunt had asked legislators to pass the cuts to help balance the state’s budget. He has said the Medicaid system is growing too fast, jeopardizing funding for education and other priorities. To talk to us about these cuts, we are joined in the studio by Ruth Ehresman. She is the Policy director for Citizens for Missouri’s Children.

  • Ruth Ehresman, has been the Policy Director of Citizens for Missouri’s Children for 10 years.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk to us about these cuts, we’re joined in the studio by Ruth Ehresman, Policy Director for Citizens for Missouri’s Children. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RUTH EHRESMAN: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of this? When the bill is on the governor’s desk?

RUTH EHRESMAN: The bill is on the governor’s desk. We expect him to sign it any time now. We are very concerned that these Medicaid cuts have been made. Missouri has been in a very serious budget deficit situation over the past three years. We have every year made consistently deeper cuts. And this year especially, Medicaid has been framed as a social welfare program, and we think that is really very flawed thinking. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have Medicaid through our employment certainly don’t think of that as social welfare. We think that healthcare should be a basic right for everyone. It is what enables families to work, to support themselves. It is what enables many with disabilities to live independently.

AMY GOODMAN: So they’re just getting cut?

RUTH EHRESMAN: They are just getting cut. It seems especially puzzling because for the low-income working families and people with disabilities who are working small amounts and trying to live as independently as possible, these people are doing exactly what we say we want them to do. We want people to be as self-sufficient as possible to support their families, to be responsible, yet we are really pulling the rug out on people who are trying to do the very thing we tell them they should be doing.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, who specifically will get most affected?

RUTH EHRESMAN: The single largest group are low-income working families, as you’ve said. The typical family would be a single mom with two children who is working at a low-paying job. We know increasingly in Missouri fewer employers are offering healthcare coverage. And these parents are extremely vulnerable.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you doing now? Is there any chance of turning this around, and do you see Missouri being used as model for other states?

RUTH EHRESMAN: Well, it certainly feels like Missouri is being used as a model for other states. The cuts that are being made at the federal level are being made now in Missouri. It appears that there’s a very concerted effort, it feels very consistent with what is happening on the federal level. Right now, I think people are asking the governor to veto the bill. I think that will not happen. He is going to sign the bill because it’s exactly what he asked for. The next step in the state is a redesign of Medicaid, which another bill was passed here that sunsets our Medicaid program, and the plan calls for a new program to be designed by January of next year, which seems like an incredible challenge. Certainly we are going to be paying attention to that to try to make sure that if we have a leaner program that it is not just meaner program for low-income families and people with disabilities, and kids in the foster care system.

AMY GOODMAN: Won’t it cost more for people to be taken off this program?

RUTH EHRESMAN: Actually, it will. We think that this doesn’t — it not only is harmful socially and humanly, but also it’s a bad economic decision. By cutting Medicaid — for every dollar of Medicaid that we cut about 61 cents of that is federal money; in the children’s health insurance program about 72 cents of every dollar is federal money. And we know that Medicaid cuts are going to have a huge economic impact in Missouri, an estimated loss of $737 million in economic activity. So, this is really — it seems to be penny wise and pound foolish.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ruth Ehresman, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Ruth Ehresman is the Director of Citizens for Missouri’s Children. We are broadcasting from St. Louis.

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