Groups advocating for an expansion of Medicaid in Missouri hope to use a report released Thursday to build on an argument that such action would lead to a healthier work force.

The report, issued by a national health-care consumers group called Families USA, indicated that 60 percent of the Missourians who would benefit from the expansion have jobs but make little money.

Providing them with this health coverage, the advocates say, amounts to an investment in the work force and the state’s economy.

“A lot of people just blankly look at social programs and assume that everybody who is affected by them ... are people who aren’t working and aren’t doing anything, and that’s completely not the case,” said Brendan Cossette, legislative affairs director for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in a conference call on Thursday.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the option of extending Medicaid programs to include more low-income individuals. The Missouri General Assembly has not taken this step. Its session ends on May 16.

Under the current Medicaid program in Missouri, parents of dependent children in a family of three qualify if their income does not exceed $4,750 a year. With the expansion, parents would be covered if incomes stand at $27,310 or below.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 3,020 families in St. Joseph made less than $25,000 in 2012.

The survey Thursday said about 34,000 Missourian that would benefit from expanded Medicaid work in food services, while another 24,000 work in sales-related jobs and 22,000 work in cleaning and maintenance jobs.

“Expanding Medicaid would help Missourians who work in jobs that are the backbone of the state’s economy, jobs that most people encounter every day,” said Dee Mahan, the Medicaid program director for Families USA.

Expansion opponents in the Republican-led Missouri House and Senate have objected to the costs the the state would bear for the program in the future. The federal government assumes the costs in the near term.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, offered a compromise though in which a trust fund could accumulate money to be used if the state needs to pay some Medicaid costs in ensuing years. Other proposals have been offered that would link Medicaid outlays to making recipients look for employment, though some claim this might run afoul of federal regulations.

Andrea Routh, executive director of the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance, said in the conference call that state residents should be afforded the safety net.

“Are we going to punish those people because there is a minority of folks who aren’t working that might qualify for this health-care coverage?” she said. “I’m beginning to wonder where the compassionate conservatives went.”

Mr. Cossette said the Medicaid expansion would inject $2.2 billion into the Missouri economy and help health-care providers, particularly in rural areas, that have to assume a disproportionate share of uncompensated care.

In addition, he said, healthy employees are more productive, a benefit to the state’s economy.

“Frankly, a lot of our membership aren’t incredibly wild about the Affordable Care Act, but at the same time, they are pragmatic,” Mr. Cossette said of the Missouri Chamber’s involvement. “(Some legislators) realize that it doesn’t do us any good to put our head in the sand and just hope that the Affordable Care Act goes away.”

Ken Newton can be reached

at ken.newton@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.







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