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Kansas City Business Leaders Want Medicaid Expansion On Missouri's November Ballot

Aviva Okeson-Haberman
KCUR 89.3
The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Kansas City and Civic Council of Greater Kansas City announced their support Tuesday for putting Medicaid expansion on Missouri's November ballot.

Kansas City’s business leaders have officially come out in favor of expanding Medicaid in Missouri. 

In a move that could put more political and financial heft behind a campaign effort, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Kansas City and Civic Council of Greater Kansas City on Tuesday announced their support for a petition drive to put Medicaid expansion on Missouri’s November ballot.

“It's rare when you have the opportunity to make a business investment, that also is the right thing to do and can have a huge impact on the quality of life in your state and your city,” said Bill Gautreaux, chair of the Civic Council, which represents private employers like H&R Block, Burns & McDonnell and Saint Luke's Health System. 

“Medicaid expansion will bring in more than a billion dollars of federal tax aid in Missouri to help create thousands of jobs and ensure, more importantly, a result in healthier families and a more productive workforce,” he said.

The expansion would extend Medicaid coverage to more than 230,000 low-income Missourians, according to an analysis by Washington University’s Center for Health Economics and Policy. 

Organizers said on Tuesday that they had collected 75% of the signatures needed to get on the ballot, months before the May 3 deadline. Support from the Kansas City business community helps frame Medicaid expansion as an economic issue. 

“The number one significance of these endorsements today is (to) make sure everyone knows this is not just a health care issue,” said Healthcare for Missouri spokesman Jack Cardetti. “It's also an economic issue.”

Kansas is also looking to expand Medicaid under a bipartisan agreement, although that effort could be stalled because of the fight over abortion. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, along with some local chambers of commerce, support Medicaid expansion in Kansas, putting them at odds with the statewide Kansas Chamber of Commerce. 

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce hasn’t made an announcement about its position, and the group didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. It did support expanding Medicaid in 2013, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.

If the state group again backs expansion, it would be at odds with the position of Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who said in November that he doesn’t support the measure but would implement it if voters approve it. The Missouri Chamber PAC endorsed Parson for governor.

Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid. This includes voter-approved measures in Republican states likes Idaho, Nebraska and Utah.

Missouri Republican lawmakers such as House Speaker Elijah Haahr have raised concerns about the cost of expanding Medicaid. The federal government would pick up 90% of the tab, with the state covering the rest. Washington University’s report found expansion would likely be revenue neutral but a “worst-case scenario” could mean Missouri would pay $42 million more, bringing the state obligation from $3.245 billion to $3.287 billion.

Advocates of expansion point to economic payoffs. Montana’s 2016 Medicaid expansion led to 5,000 new jobs and more than $500 million in additional economic output, according to that state’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The National Rural Hospital Association has also tied a lack of Medicaid expansion to rural hospital closures. 

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s board voted unanimously to endorse the ballot initiative, according to board chair Carolyn Watley. 

“Our endorsement should not come as a surprise,” Watley said. “The Greater Kansas City Chamber has been a staunch supporter of Medicaid expansion on both sides of the state line for years. “

The St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce also supports the ballot initiative. 

“We support full, affordable, and comprehensive access to health insurance, and a robust healthcare system that protects the interests of the business community while addressing the needs of patients, providers, and payers,” Austin Walker, St. Louis Regional Chamber’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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