KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Activists, medical providers, faith leaders, and those eligible for Medicaid expansion gathered to demand that Missouri expand the program, something Missouri voters approved in August 2020 through a ballot initiative.
They say if the legislature and the governor continue to stall, people will continue to die.
Terrence Wise chanted to the dozens of people who gathered in front of Trinity United Methodist Church: "Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law!"
Those words are written on Missouri's Great Seal, which Wise said is not being upheld.
Many of the people at the rally are now eligible for Medicaid under the expansion that is set to go into effect on July 1.
"I haven't seen a doctor in 20 years, so I was going to be ready to sign up on the first of July, not only for me but for my three teenage daughters as well to have Medicaid," Wise said.
But they say now they're worried about how soon they'll be able to access it.
"When it comes down to it, it's life or death," Wise said.
Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday he will not expand medicaid, though it's now written into the constitution, because there isn't a funding source for it.
Friday marks the last day of the legislative session, and lawmakers have refused to set aside money in the budget for it, though if they did, the state would get nearly $2 billion from the federal government.
"It's crazy to me that we had to come to this because it's going to cost taxpayers money, they're going to lose in court, we're going to expand Medicaid because that's what we voted for," said Elad Gross, a civil rights attorney.
Gross argues that while the constitutional amendment does not require the government to come up with the funding, it does require it to expand the program. He says multiple lawsuits are inevitable, coming from every day people.
"I'm just past the age where I can't be on my parents' insurance anymore, so being in this stage where my job and my health insurance are up in the air is really stressful because without Medicaid expansion, there's no safety net for me," Alice Nelms said.
Nelms came from a rural community near the Missouri-Iowa border, where she said she had to drive 30 minutes to see the dentist. She was only able to see the dentist once because of how much of a hassle it was to borrow a car and juggle that trip along with being a working student.
She says many people in her community deal with the same barriers to healthcare.
Gary Thomas with the United Autoworkers Union Local 249 has health care but still came to the rally to show support.
"It's important to me because we're a society that likes to pride ourselves on how well we treat others when, in reality, we just let them lay by the wayside and we can't do that anymore," Thomas said. "We need heroes in this world and everyone who showed up today is taking that step to being those heroes. We need to protect those who have less than us, it's just how societies work."
Under the expansion, 275,000 more low-income and elderly people could get Medicaid who previously couldn't afford their employer's insurance or who still made too much for the state's existing program. That includes people who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level, which equals out to a family of four making about $36,000 a year.
"On July 1, folks are going to apply, they are going to get denied by the government if the government so chooses to deny them. That would be violation of the Missouri state constitution and those individuals will be able to file a lawsuit," Gross said.
Gross said he represents many people who fall into this category and, unlike many GOP lawmakers' portrayal of them, have multiple jobs but still can't get access to health care.