Medical uncertainty coupled with economic instability is a reality more Missourians are becoming familiar with in the ongoing pandemic. As the saying goes, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. This couldn’t be more true at a time when COVID-19 has eliminated jobs and, with it, people’s health insurance and the ability to afford and access basic health care.
I know the compounding crises of income insecurity and being underinsured. When I received bad news from my doctor, I was struck with fear that the cost of care meant I’d have to go without it altogether. It’s a plight I, along with the majority of Missourians, recognized and reflected in our vote to expand Medicaid, which extends affordable health care access to 230,000 more people on July 1. This mandate can’t come soon enough for the growing number of uninsured people struggling to make ends meet and survive an unprecedented public health crisis. However, just as our state takes a large leap forward in Medicaid expansion, the Republican supermajority in Jefferson City could be dragging us back to where we started.
Medicaid ensures people with low incomes — the majority of whom are Missouri women — can access basic health care, but politicians continue to attack it. This year, I’ve watched our elected officials jeopardize the entire program by introducing amendments to a key Medicaid funding bill SB 1 that would ban certain types of birth control. This violates federal Medicaid law which could mean our state’s entire Medicaid program could be in jeopardy with or without Medicaid expansion, not to mention the threat to our reproductive freedom.
I was one of the lucky ones. I faced a cancer scare and thankfully I could access a Planned Parenthood health center in St. Louis where I was able to monitor my reproductive health condition with compassionate providers who gave me the reassurance and sound medical care I needed, regardless of my ability to pay. But, our state’s safety-net providers, particularly those in rural communities, continue to dwindle and won’t be able to help patients if the Medicaid program ceased to exist.
Women like me, people with low incomes, and people of color disproportionately rely on publicly funded programs like Medicaid because of these racist and discriminatory systems with which our country is reckoning. While politicians push harmful amendments that could jeopardize Medicaid altogether, please remember what their actions actually mean: they are devaluing human life, Black lives, women’s lives, while threatening a health care program that could have a devastating domino effect on Missouri’s public health infrastructure.
It’s time for the same politicians who use “life” as a political bargaining chip year in and year out, to put their money where their mouth is: Support Medicaid without unlawful exceptions. Our lives depend on it.
Heather Donahue is a patient of Planned Parenthood.