The trial of 23 people who protested Missouri’s failure to expand Medicaid began today in Jefferson City with jury selection.
The so-called Medicaid 23 defendants include many notable Kansas City clergy members, among them Sam Mann, Wallace Hartsfield and Vernon P. Howard Jr. They are accused of trespassing and obstructing government operations, both misdemeanors.
The unusual mass trial stems from protests the defendants staged in May 2014. They were arrested after refusing to leave the Senate gallery, where they were chanting and singing.
Along with hundreds of others, the protesters were urging lawmakers to expand Medicaid eligibility. Currently, Missouri is one of 19 states that have refused to do so.
Expansion would extend health insurance coverage to 300,000 low-income Missourians.
Texting from the Cole County courthouse, the Rev. Howard, president of the Southern Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, said that since May 2014, “1,400 Missourians have died or suffered extreme health deterioration because Missouri refused to expand Medicaid.”
“Do not the poor deserve the same quality of health care as the legislators themselves?” he asked.
Closing arguments in the case are expected to take place on Wednesday. The defendants each face up to six months in jail and fines of $500.
Before the court proceedings got underway, supporters of the Medicaid 23 lined the sidewalk in front of the courthouse and expressed their solidarity.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.