By the time you are reading this column, Virginia will have reached the milestone by having refused to accept a billion dollars of monies paid by Virginia taxpayers to close the coverage gap for 400,000 working poor Virginians who cannot afford health insurance. A $1,000,000,000 is a lot of money!
We got to this point by the Republican majority in the General Assembly refusing to pass a plan for Medicaid expansion that would bring more than $5 million dollars a day to the state, produce as many as 30,000 new jobs in the health care industry, insure as many as 400,000 of the working poor, and enhance the quality of life for Virginia’s workforce and their families.
What is the alternative proposed by the Republicans? Speaker of the House Howell was quoted last month as saying that House Republicans propose to help the uninsured through “free clinics and community health centers and through expanded hospital services.” Hospital representatives are saying that they need the Medicaid money in order to expand services. One hospital in the state has closed, and others report financial stress. The free clinic serving this region is reported to be in economic difficulties.
Last week, Stan Brock’s Remote Area Medical (RAM) set up its mobile clinic in Wise County, VA, as it has been doing one weekend a year for more than a decade. More than 1,000 people who do not have medical insurance or access to regular medical services show up and stand in line for hours to be seen by one or several of the more than a hundred medical care professionals who volunteer each year to run this free clinic. Brock, who achieved fame for his television series Wild Kingdom, has described health care needs and services in the Appalachian region that includes Southwest Virginia as being like that of a third-world country.
The General Assembly majority has been able to stymie efforts by the Governor to get a plan for Medicaid expansion approved. While the legislature is still in special session, it is not expected to meet again until Sept. 22. There is little optimism that there will be a change of heart on the part of Republicans as the national organization Americans for Prosperity threaten a primary challenge to anyone who breaks rank. Two senior Republican committee chairs were defeated in primaries in the last election cycle by Tea Party Republicans as was House Majority Leader Congressman Eric Cantor defeated this year. Unfortunately, the desire to keep one’s legislative seat seems stronger than the moral call to do the right thing and provide health care to people who need it.
The billion-dollar give-away is money paid by Virginians under the Affordable Care Act that goes to Washington and is not returned because of the legislature’s refusal to act. Write to your friends, family, and colleagues and encourage them to contact their legislators to support legislation that will keep $5 million a day that will add up to another billion dollars by early next year in the state for the benefit of Virginians.
Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates