St. Louis JCRC Plays a Major Role in the Struggle for Healthcare Reform

by Steve Skrainka

Over two years ago, the JCRC of St. Louis committed to devote major efforts to healthcare reform as a way of addressing compelling domestic needs in the St. Louis area for a multiplicity of reasons:  (1) we wanted to be proactive about a social justice issue on which we thought we could help make a difference, (2) our conservative Republican dominated state legislature—on recommendation of then Governor Blunt—had made massive Medicaid cuts in 2005, ostensibly as a temporary budget-cutting measure; there were over 100,000 additional uninsured individuals in Missouri in 2007 largely as a consequence of these cuts, (3)encouraged by our local healthcare conversion foundation, we had been participating with other advocates in preliminary attempts to come together and cooperate on these issues,  and (4) the country and hopefully the State seemed ready for healthcare reform and it seemed likely to become a major issue in the 2008 elections.


To assist in this effort we formed the JCRC Healthcare Advisory Committee. This group makes recommendations to the Board and Council on health care policy issues and particular legislation or decisions to join other coalitions working in this area. 


Among our successes were helping to form the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance, a non-profit, grass top organization that fosters cooperation among organizations working on healthcare reform in Missouri. Individuals may also join. JCRC furnished the first chair and has supported the statements of principle and actions of this organization (now in its second year).  It has substantially increased the coordination and cooperation of advocates and organizations working on healthcare reform in Missouri and reduced the ability of politicians in the State to play one group of consumers or other stakeholders against another. This group has successfully engaged groups as diverse as the two Catholic dioceses in Missouri and Planned Parenthood to work together for healthcare reform!


We were early supporters and serve on the State-wide and local steering committees of Missouri Healthcare For All, a grass roots organization that is led by faith leaders and works in complement with the Alliance.  It now has almost 4000 individual members and 100 organizational endorsers of its principles of quality, affordable healthcare for all.  Additionally, the JCRC endorsed and supported a state ballot initiated that passed in November 2008 to try to improve and increase the number of home healthcare workers available to those wanting to receive long term care and assistance in their homes.


In collaboration with other community organizations, the JCRC convened two successful public forums that addressed health issues prior to the November 2008 elections.  The first was a forum entitled “Unanswered Questions:  Poverty and Political Solutions” held in September 2008 and including a panel of experts from the government, academic and non-profit sectors who spoke about and answered questions on healthcare access and other poverty issues.  The second was a candidate forum entitled “Improving the Health of Missourians” held in October 2008.  At this forum, candidates for the State House of Representatives from the St. Louis area answered audience questions specifically related to health care in our state.


In November a new governor was elected who supports expanded public healthcare assistance through, among other measures, restoration of Medicaid to those affected by the 2005 cuts.  However, our legislature continues to be unreceptive to such measures and we continue to work for change on local issues, state-wide,  and with national organizations such as Community Catalyst, Herndon Alliance, Families USA, and UCAN.