Doctors make house calls to put Medicaid expansion on Missouri ballot

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. It was a strange sight seeing them strolling up and down the streets of a south-central Springfield neighborhood.

"I think they're a little perplexed that someone in a white coat is standing at their front door," said Dr. Kayce Morton, a pediatrician at Cox Health and Jordan Valley Community Health Center.

Dressed in their white lab coats, a group of physicians were canvassing the neighborhood on Friday seeking signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the statewide ballot next November.

Missouri is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid since Obamacare made that an option nine years ago.

Opponents contend that Medicaid already takes up a third of the state's budget while supporters say Missouri is missing out on federal funding that already goes to 36 other states.

"I think it should be a non-partisan issue," Morton said. "We don't want to make any decisions or change any minds, we just want the people to be able to vote on it."

However, several medical associations do support Medicaid expansion and these doctors say they deal with patients every day who are burdened with catastrophic medical bills.

"This is the working class," Morton said. "This is the people who work hard to take care of their families.

"But along comes a hospital bill which can be tens of thousands of dollars and that sinks 'em," added Dr. Jim Blaine, a veteran area physician. "Some 67 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States are medical."

The expansion would help an estimated 200,000 Missouri residents.

"People who are unemployed are already covered with Medicaid," Blaine said. "The Medicaid expansion is going to give the accessibility of primary care prevention to the working poor. People that can't afford to go see the doctor until it's too late and they end up in the ER."

The expansion could also help rural hospitals. At least nine rural facilities in the state have closed in the last five years and have pointed to the financial burden of uncompensated care from health providers as a major factor.

That's another reason why these doctors are out making house calls.

"All kinds of things could be helped with the simple expansion of Medicaid that 36 other states have done," Morton said.

Healthcare for Missouri has reported that they've already collected 25 percent of the 172,000 signatures needed to put the issue on the statewide ballot.

Attempts to reach several lawmakers including Congressman Billy Long and speaker Elijah Haar were unsuccessful before our deadline.