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Missouri Democrats Unveil Their Vision for Health Care, Acknowledge Long Odds

Brian Ellison
KCUR 89.3
Missouri Democratic Party chair Stephen Webber announces the "Healthy Missouri" plan at a union hall in South Kansas City.

The Missouri Democratic Party announced an ambitious set of health care proposals Tuesday, including expansion of Medicaid and policy changes focused on veterans, women’s health and opioid abuse.

Republicans control the House, Senate and Governor’s office in Missouri, making it unlikely the proposals will be adopted. But Stephen Webber, the party chair, said Democrats still want to present a “positive proactive vision.”

“I think it’s really clear that the debate we’re having right now is not a political debate,” Webber said Tuesday at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 124, in South Kansas City. “It’s a debate about the health and financial security of working Americans.”

Credit Brian Ellison / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Missouri House Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty was joined by Senate candidate Hillary Shields (second from left) and Reps. Greg Razer and Ingrid Burnett (far right)

Local legislators, including House Minority Leader Rep. Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City, spoke at the event, with several sharing personal stories of loved ones who they said were not receiving adequate care under Republican cuts to state programs. It was one in a series of events planned by the Missouri Democratic Party around the state.

Rep. Ingrid Burnett of Kansas City said her oldest brother, a veteran on limited income, has been forced to live in a nursing home room with two roommates and has only $50 a month left over to live on.

And Hillary Shields, the Democratic candidate in a special election in November for the Missouri Senate, said health care policy was among the reasons she is running.

“After the last election, which was sort of a kick in the pants to me, I felt like I had to get more involved,” Shields said, referring to a brother who has a mental health disorder. “I saw that at the federal and the state level, policies were going to get passed that were going to hurt people, that were going to hurt my friends and family.”

Webber said Republicans at the state and federal level were  interested only in cuts, “which increase costs and reduce coverage.”

Rep. Greg Razer of Kansas City noted the presence of numerous nearby hospitals and highlighted what he said was another benefit of expanding health care, namely jobs.

Credit Brian Ellison / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Hillary Shields is the Democratic nominee in a special election for a state Senate seat in Jackson County.

“These are not just places people go to get well. They’re also places where people go to work,” Razer said. “So expanding Medicaid, getting access to people not only provides health care to those individuals. It also provides jobs.”

The Democrats' “Healthy Missouri” plan also calls for allowing individuals to buy into state Medicaid coverage “at actuarial cost.” Other elements of the plan include requiring pharmaceutical companies to justify price hikes and prohibiting them from giving gifts to doctors, allowing veterans to take time off work to access health care and requiring diversity training in medical education.

The Democratic agenda would also restore Medicaid funding for contraception in Missouri, which would likely mean funding Planned Parenthood —something Republicans have consistently opposed.

The party plan also would “create an actual comprehensive Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.” Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens issued an executive order setting up a program that partners with St. Louis-based Express Scripts to monitor the prescribing of dangerous opioids, but some legislators have criticized the program as inadequate.

Also Tuesday afternoon, Democrats celebrated the news  that Republican efforts in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act seemed to have failed for now.

“As a person who is a breast cancer survivor, who always worries about whether I could get health care coverage, I am glad to see that we have once again been able to stop the Republicans in their attempts to repeal Obamacare,” Beatty said.

Party leaders acknowledged that their efforts might not be as successful on the state level, but said the development of the priority list was worth the effort.

“We think it’s important that we push back and that we provide another positive option to show a contrast between Republican cuts and Democratic plans to increase options and to lower costs,” Webber said. “We’re doing this to put that out there: To give people a choice to present people two clear visions and take that argument to the people of Missouri.”

Host/Contributor Brian Ellison covers Missouri government and hosts the KCUR political podcast Statehouse Blend Missouri. Reach him at brian@kcur.orgor on Twitter @ptsbrian.

As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
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