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Missouri Businesses Push For Medicaid Expansion

(Flick/Mark Coggins)

Missouri’s business community is getting more vocal in pushing the state’s legislators to expand Medicaid.

The St. Louis Regional Chamber held a panel Friday with business leaders who expressed frustration that the state is not capturing federal dollars to provide Medicaid coverage to more low-income residents.

This year, the state will pass up $2 billion dollars in federal funds.

After the panel discussion, St. Louis Regional Chamber President and CEO Joe Reagan said that Jefferson City needs to get the message.

"What the leaders said today is that failure to act will cost Missouri businesses more and cost Missouri jobs. It can’t get more plainspoken than that," he said.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has pushed for the expansion since 2012, even hiring former U.S. Senator Kit Bond to lobby in Jefferson City.

While legislation has been sponsored by Republican Rep. Noel Torpey to expand and reform the program, other Republicans remain staunchly opposed. Rep. Jay Barnes, of Jefferson City, recently said the existing program has major problems. He said he’s not willing to expand Medicaid in Missouri until those problems are fixed.

"It is on a path, fiscally, that is unsustainable for our state and country," said Barnes of Jefferson City.

In the meantime, many in the business community say the state is losing jobs and will eventually lose businesses.

They point to a study commissioned by the Missouri Hospital Association and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry that found hospitals have already eliminated more than 1,000 jobs in the last six months, in part because the state has not expanded Medicaid.

William Thompson, the president and CEO of SSM Health Care, knows the problem all too well. He says system-wide, SSM eliminated 500 jobs last year, 200 of those in Missouri. Thompson was a panelist in the Chamber discussion. He said teh SSM system is looking to reduce costs by $170 million this year and will likely get some cost-savings from not filling open positions.

"The last thing in the world we want to do is to reduce our workforce, to reduce the people who are taking care of the people we’re serving," he said.  

While the lack of expansion is impacting the hospital industry, other business leaders said they’re feeling it, too. Energizer CEO Ward Klein said insurance costs continue to rise for his employees because there are so many uninsured in the state. He said those costs could deter other businesses from moving into Missouri.

"Those people are getting sick, and they are using hospitals and hospitals are required to give care," Klein said. "(Hospitals) absorb a lot of those losses of unreimbursed care, but they can’t absorb them all. So, a portion of that does go into the health rates that my company pays and other companies pay. That number is getting bigger, not smaller."

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.