ST. LOUIS — “Hurting Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens is not the way to fix our state’s budget problems,” said Cathy Martarella at a March 21 press conference announcing the formation of Missourians for Health. The new coalition includes health care providers, mental health advocates, Medicaid recipients, trade unionists and parents of children in the state’s First Steps program, which serves developmentally disabled toddlers.

Missourians for Health formed in response to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed cuts to Medicaid, mental health and First Steps services.

“Just because the funding goes away doesn’t mean that the need has also disappeared,” Martarella told the World. She said cutting Medicaid and mental health services will make budget problems worse. “Patients still need to be cared for. Instead of mental health professionals providing services to our most vulnerable citizens, many citizens may become incarcerated, hospitalized, homeless or unemployed.” All of which, she said, will cost taxpayers more than the services currently provided by Medicaid or other health care programs.

Gov. Blunt had told the parents of Missouri’s disabled toddlers that he could “save” the First Steps program by allocating $14.5 million from the Medicaid savings he proposed. Malinda Terreri, of the Save First Steps Coalition, responded, “We refuse to be pitted against one another in the budget battle.”

“I wish I didn’t have to use Medicaid,” said Norzora Block who suffers from diabetes, severe arthritis and hypertension. “But if I can’t pay for my medications or see my doctor regularly, I can get very sick. I could lose the use of my feet. I could go blind. I could even die.” To learn more, go to www.missourihealth.org.

tonypec @ pww.org

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