JEFFERSON CITY - The outcry over Gov. Matt Blunt's cuts to Missouri's Medicaid program reached a new pitch Wednesday when eight wheelchair bound citizens chained themselves to the doors of the Missouri House. Supported by a chanting crowd, the protesters blocked the hall for two and half hours before relenting after their demand to meet with the governor went unanswered.
Capitol police quickly cut the chain but made no arrests, instead moving down the hall to guard the office of House Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) where Blunt was meeting with Republican legislators.
After the governor left Jetton's office without acknowledging the crowd, the protesters began to thin from their position outside the Democrats' entrance to the lower chamber.
The protest was led by John Loyd, 36, a resident of Rochester, New York who said he owns a home in Warrensburg.
"We are the targets of this administration," Loyd said. "All we ask is that they treat us as good as a dog."
Loyd said he was brought to Missouri by the advocacy group Show Me ADAPT to organize protests against Blunt's Medicaid cuts, which the governor signed into law Tuesday.
Medicaid is a joint program between federal and state government designed to provide health care to low-income, elderly and disabled citizens. It covers nearly 1 million Missourians and accounts for more than one quarter of the state's expenses.
Led by Blunt, the Republican majority has pushed to overhaul the state program. The governor and other Republicans describe the nearly four year old health care system as a program system spiraling out of control. They say the cuts are unavoidable without raising taxes because of Missouri's budget shortfall, which estimates place between $600 million and $700 million.
The exact number of Medicaid recipients losing their coverage will not be known until the state budget is finalized. The cuts signed by Blunt would drop nearly 100,000 from Medicaid rolls and no longer require the state cover "optional" services like dental work, eye care and wheelchairs.
But budgetmakers in the General Assembly have tempered Blunt's plan by slicing into the higher education budget. Their proposal would restore coverage for 30,000 recipients axed by Blunt's plan and fund optional services for at least one more year.
Blunt hinted that he may exercise the line item veto to remove the General Assembly's modifications at a press conference Tuesday but stopped short of a guarantee.
State law requires that the budget be finalized by May 6. But it won't reach Blunt's desk until it clears a conference committee between the two chambers scheduled to open today.
The Senate finished their version Wednesday, agreeing to a compromise that would soften a cut to adoption subsidies sought by Blunt. Under the deal brokered by Sen. Chuck Gross (R-St. Charles County) the eligibility ceiling was bumped up from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 250 percent of the poverty line.
Considering their vocal objections to Blunt's cuts, members of the Democratic minority voiced surprise that the protesters elected to block their entrance to the chamber. Loyd, however, didn't see it that way.
"We are bipartisan," he said. "They can kiss my ass like everybody else."