During Gov. Mike Parson’s keynote address on Sunday, Sept. 8, at Bolivar High School, a group of protesters stood to their feet and raised their voices over his speech.
Blocking the crowd’s view from the front row, the protesters waved homemade banners and shouted “Shame on Mike!” cutting the governor’s speech mid-sentence.
The banners read, “100,000 kids off Medicaid, why?” and “Shame on Parson!”
As the protesters tried to stay inside the auditorium and continue protesting, the crowd of hundreds of Parson supporters volleyed back with boos and chants of “U-S-A,” initiated by the governor himself.
“That’s pretty sad they didn’t find the exit,” Parson said, drawing laughter from the audience, once all the protesters — one of whom tried to run up the aisle but was stopped by a man in the crowd — were out of the auditorium.
Without hesitation, Parson continued his speech as the protesters turned over their event badges outside the auditorium and were walked out the school’s front doors by Bolivar Police officers.
On Monday, Sept. 9, Rebecca Johnson, Springfield’s Missouri Healthcare For All organizer, shared her group’s view with the BH-FP.
While eight people were escorted from the property, she said three MHFA participants at Sunday’s protest were from Springfield, and one was from Kansas City. She said one person from Bolivar planned to join the protest, but that person couldn’t make the event due to health issues.
“We are a non-partisan group that advocates for healthcare for more Missourians — Missouri Health For All, that’s what we’re called,” Johnson said.
Their call to action? Trying to see that Parson addresses what protest organizer Johnson calls “a Medicaid purge” for nearly 130,000 Missourians, including more than 100,000 children, who have been dropped from their Medicaid health insurance since Jan.1, 2018, according to a MHFA flyer handed out by protesters at the rally.
Those claims appear to be supported, partially, by state data.
According to the Missouri Department of Social Services caseload counter, the total number of MO HealthNet — Missouri’s Medicaid program — enrollees in January 2018 was 977,531, including 621,535 children. As of July 2019, total enrollees had dropped to 850,254 — a decrease of 127,277. The number of enrolled children had decreased by 100,636 to 520,899.
Earlier this year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Parson’s administration cited Missouri’s improving economy as a reason up to 70,000 people dropped off the state’s Medicaid rolls in 2018.
Opponents, however, have argued changes to Missouri Medicaid enrollment procedures may be at least partly to blame.
Arguably at the center of the controversy was a February Kaiser Health News report, which pointed to data indicating Missouri — along with Tennessee — saw a faster than average decline in Medicaid enrollees when compared with other states, which seemed to correlate with “stepped up efforts to verify” eligibility.
Nationally, KHN reported, from January to October 2018, Medicaid enrollment dipped by 1.5%, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health.
That compares to a 5% drop — from 977,531 to 926,162 — in Missouri during the same period, according to DSS data.
However, federal numbers raise a different point.
Data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid indicates the decline in Missouri represents a net decrease of 0.64% since the first Marketplace Open Enrollment Period and related Medicaid program changes in October 2013.
But critics, like Johnson, say explanation is still needed.
“I think it’s the responsibility of Gov. Parson that the well-being of Missourians are looked after,” she said, “and I’m looking forward to him addressing this issue for the sake of 100,000 kids without healthcare right now.”
‘That’s America, isn’t it?’
Johnson said being removed from the rally wasn’t a concern for the group.
“It really wasn’t an issue,” Johnson said. “We had the right to be there and protest. Missourians have been calling out to Gov. Parson for months. We really wanted to make sure we put the issue right in front of him and ask for a response, and I hope that in time we get one."
After Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers walked the group out of the auditorium, the protesters turned over their event badges and were walked out the school’s front doors by Bolivar Police officers.
“We don’t want a disturbance continuing and disrupting the gathering, so they were escorted off the property,” Bolivar Police Chief Mark Webb said at the event.
Webb said the protesters were released and could continue protesting in an assigned area at the corner of Rt. D and East Laird Street.
“There were no citations, no enforcement action taken,” Webb said. “It’s just a difference of opinion. That’s America, isn’t it?”
The day after the event, Bolivar PD’s Lt. Roger Barron said while the event was held on public school property, “it was a ticketed event.”
“The campaign rented the school as the venue, and they held their own event, which was admission by ticket only,” he said.
Badges handed out to attendees upon entrance to Sunday’s rally said “the acceptance and presentation of this ticket is an agreement to comply with and be bound by the instructions of the Parson for Missouri campaign.”
The ticket said those instructions prohibited intimidating, harassing, abusive, discriminatory, derogatory, or demeaning speech, materials, or conduct by attendees.
Those who violate “this prohibition shall be removed (from) the event,” the ticket says.
“They were very peaceful with us, very cooperative, and left on their own,” Bolivar PD’s Lt. Zach Palmer said Monday.
Requests for comment from Steele Shippy, Parson's campaign manager, were not answered as of press time Tuesday.
Regardless of being removed from the event, Johnson believes many Missourians need to hear Parson’s response to the Medicaid cuts.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of Missourians upset,” Johnson said. “I’ve talked to several folks in the area and other areas of the state who have had their kids dropped — even though they qualify, still, for Medicaid.”
She said “it’s infuriating when Missourians can’t get healthcare for their children by no fault of their own.”
“So I’d say people are upset and want to see action taken,” she said.
Another group of protesters, who donned red-cloaked, white-hooded costumes based on characters from Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian novel “The Handmaiden’s Tale,” was seen protesting near South Springfield Avenue and Mt. Gilead Road on Sunday. They could not be reached for comment.