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Four years later, Medicaid 23 return to the Capitol to support vulnerable Missourians

The so-called Medicaid 23 demonstrating in the Mo. Senate visitors' gallery on May 6, 2014.
Courtesy, Missouri Senate
The so-called Medicaid 23 demonstrating in the Mo. Senate visitors' gallery on May 6, 2014.

Activists known as the Medicaid 23 returned to the Missouri Senate Tuesday, four years and two days after staging a demonstration in the Senate gallery after lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid.

Instead of singing hymns and praying like they did in 2014, the group was quiet as Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, read a tribute in their honor. 

Their goals haven’t changed much in the years since the initial demonstration. At the Capitol Tuesday, they urged lawmakers to oppose a number of bills that would impose work requirements on Missourians who use Medicaid and impose similar requirements for recipients of food assistance programs.

“We won’t argue about how many people die because of the structure of the healthcare system in the state of Missouri,” said Dr. David Kingsley of Kansas City, one of the Medicaid 23, “We just know that people do die and suffer when they have no access to medical care.”

Prominent religious leaders in Missouri and nearly 300 followers put on the protest in the Senate on May 6, 2014. Twenty-three were arrested and convicted of misdemeanor trespassing charges, although former Gov. Jay Nixon pardoned 16 of them.

Another one of the Medicaid 23, The Rev. Ester Holzendorf of Kansas City, said the healthcare system in Missouri has continued to deteriorate in the years since she took part in the movement.

“I don’t see things changing. I just see them getting worse… because people are still dying, “ said Holzendorf, “There are some real horror stories about people suffering as a result of not being able to get to the doctor so they can get treatment in time.”

The Rev. John Bennett of Jefferson City and one of the 23, would have family affected by work requirements for Medicaid.

“The real-life effect of these bills would be to kick Missourians off their coverage if they can’t find work,” said Bennett, “I have a daughter who is in that category.”

The group has supported a number of bills this session, including a House bill that would provide substance abuse treatment for new moms up to a year postpartum.

“These measures reflect politics of compassion,” said Bennett of the bills the group backs, “Befitting a legislative body that understands that the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”

Follow Erin on Twitter:@ErinAAchenbach

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Erin Achenbach