JEFFERSON CITY -A welfare advocacy group has launched a campaign to restore Medicaid benefits to thousands of Missourians. Grass Roots Organizing wants the initiative to be on the November 2006 ballot.
The People's Health Care Initiative would prevent the state legislature from ending Medicaid coverage in 2008. It would also change the income requirement for elderly and disabled Missourians to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
One of the key supporters of the initiative attacked cutting the Medicaid program before creating a new system to replace it.
"The legislators are making us all more vulnerable to sickness and death by cutting up the health services before there is plan to replace them," said Daniel Krebiel, member of GRO. "We want to make sure our communities and families remain healthy and strong in the meantime."
The Medicaid coverage reductions were passed by the legislative commission earlier this year at the request of Gov. Matt Blunt in an effort to deal with budget shortfalls.
Republican Senate Floor Leader Charlie Shields, of Buchanan, and member of the Medicaid Reform Commission, said the state's Medicaid system is fundamentally broken.
"I would be a little bit leery of anybody claiming that they can solve the Medicaid system by a ballot initiative because I think it's much, much more complicated than that," Shields said.
Shields said he thinks the state's Medicaid Reform Commission is the best avenue for crafting Medicaid legislation.
Robin Acree, the executive director of GRO, disagrees.
"I think the law makers didn't do their jobs to raise the revenue it was going to take to support the program," said Acree. "And I also think that there's other political influence and nuances that are out there to put forth that this is somehow hurting tax payers."
GRO is a non profit group and was created in 2000 to combat poverty in the state. If passed, the initiative would restore benefits to 90,000-100,000 Missourians, but does not include any mechanisms for funding Medicaid coverage restorations. GRO needs between 139,000 and 150,000 signatures in order for the initiative to be placed on the November 2006 ballot.
Krehbiel said he's not worried about gathering the required number of signatures.
"We just submitted it and people are already calling and talking about it and we are very excited about this unprecedented grass roots lawmaking effort," Krehbiel said.
The Medicaid cuts took effect on Sept. 1 and eliminated Medicaid coverage for approximately 100,000 Missourians. Close to 250,000 residents lost partial benefits.