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As Coronavirus Stifles Ballot Initiatives, Missouri Medicaid Expansion Effort Presses On

Coronavirus concerns have made gathering signatures for ballot items basically impossible, especially with state and local governments placing restrictions on public gatherings.

But a group seeking to put a Medicaid expansion proposal before Missouri voters says it started early enough to get the necessary signatures for the 2020 ballot.

Healthcare for Missouri is seeking a constitutional amendment that would expand Medicaid to people making 138% of the federal poverty level, which is a little less than $18,000 a year. The effort attracted robust support from the state’s hospitals, which contend that Medicaid expansion is needed to prevent rural facilities from going under.

Healthcare for Missouri’s A.J. Bockelman said in an email to supporters that “thanks to a strong and early start to voter signature collections, we will be able to submit the required number of valid signatures by the early May deadline.”

“That’s why in the weeks ahead, we’ll look to hold virtual events to keep our grassroots supporters like you involved in our campaign,” Bockelman wrote. “We’ll continue fighting every day to expand healthcare coverage to 230,000 Missourians, save rural hospitals, and bring our tax dollars home from Washington.”

Bockelman added that his group is suspending public events under further notice in “accordance with federal, state, and local guidelines regarding the coronavirus outbreak.”

Healthcare for Missouri’s announcement is significant, because if the group had not collected signatures by now it was unlikely any sort of Medicaid expansion proposal would make it before voters. For instance, it’s unlikely that Republicans who control the Legislature would place the proposal on the ballot — especially since many GOP lawmakers don’t support the idea.

The deadline to turn in signatures to the Missouri secretary of state’s office is May 3. The office will then send copies of the signature pages to each of Missouri’s local election authorities to verify that the people who submitted their signatures are eligible to sign. And if the initiative has enough signatures, it will go on the ballot.

Missouri isn’t the only state where coronavirus is affecting political activity. NPR reported on Saturday that the virus is hampering candidates who need to get signatures to make it onto the ballot, such as in Massachusetts.

In Missouri, groups must collect more than 160,000 signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. And those organizations have to collect a certain number of signatures in two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts in order for their measure to qualify.

Healthcare for Missouri launched its campaign in September 2019. Other initiatives, including an effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use, began gathering signatures in late January.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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