Advocates of Medicaid expansion make a mark at the Capitol

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JEFFERSON CITY - Right before lawmakers left for spring break, the Missouri Medicaid Coalition marched through the halls of the capitol building Thursday. Around 300 advocates of Medicaid expansion marched in hopes of gaining attention from lawmakers and influencing them to make changes. 

One uninsured Missourian, Echo Garrett, said every day is a struggle. She has knee problems but said she often puts her health off in order to pay for other things. 

"Do I continue going to the doctor and raising the medical costs of bills that I cannot afford, or do I just sit and suffer with the pain so that way I can sit and take care of other bills?" Garrett said.

Karen Wright is a retired ultrasound technician from Jefferson City. She said she thinks it's a shame that not everyone can have the same care and it usually leads to more problems than anything else. 

"I have seen for several years working in health care that there are a lot of people that don't have health care, and we don't usually see them until they're in our emergency rooms or they end up in the intensive care unit," Wright said. 

Dottie Elbert of Missouri Health Care for All said she sees Medicaid expansion as a moral issue. 

"There's so many working poor that deserve to get health care and see doctors when they're sick," Elbert said. 

But some Missouri republicans said the state doesn't have the money to do an expansion and Rep. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said there are many factors that need to be considered before expanding. 

"There is a spending element that's relevant in the conversation. That's probably the first thing that we need to tackle to make sure that if we do go down that road of expansion that those folks have access to the best care and the care that provides the best value to the state," Rowden said. "We have to make decisions that are not narrowly targeted to one specific issue. We've got to a huge breadth of issues that we're dealing with." 

Marchers chanted things like, "We're fired up", "Can't take it no more," and "No justice, no peace." 

If Missouri were to raise eligibility to the threshold of federal law, around 300,000 people could qualify for care and the state could get more than $2 billion every year for additional federal Medicaid funding.