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Republicans in Virginia Stand Firm Against Expanding Medicaid

Steve Helber


400,000 Virginians could get health insurance if the state makes it easier to enroll in Medicaid. Wednesday lawmakers meet in Richmond for one final day of the legislative session. They’ll have another shot at providing Medicaid to people who are poor or disabled but don’t now qualify. 



Lauralyn Clark lost her health insurance a couple years ago when her husband died. 


“In a car accident because he was working two jobs trying to take care of his family, fell asleep behind the wheel," she says. "That’s how I had my health insurance, so when he died, so did my health insurance.” 


Shortly after, her elderly mother got sick. It was natural for Clark, who was already a home caregiver, to take care of her mother. But that didn’t pay the bills, or provide health insurance. 


Then she twisted her ankle and couldn’t afford to stay off her feet. 


“I spend a lot of time taking Aleve, because the pain is -- my whole right side is in pain," Clark says. "Just imagine having four bad toothaches in one joint.”


A couple months ago her daughter finally convinced her to go to the emergency room. She now has a brace for her ankle -- along with an $8,000 bill she can’t pay. 


She’s holding out hope Virginia lawmakers will help low-income individuals like herself get access to medical treatment. Along with a handful of others, and sponsored by the advocacy group Progress Virginia, she came to Virginia’s capitol to share her story with lawmakers.


“I didn’t realize how much my voice mattered. You know? Talking to delegates, talking to senators and governors and everything like that. Our personal stories is what educates them," Clark says. "I’m tired of the nonsense that goes on in this building.” 


Virginia’s Republicans have, for years, resisted broadening Medicaid -- even though, as part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government was offering to pay for expansion. In 2020 that offer diminishes slightly, Virginia would be on the hook for 10-percent of the cost. 


State Republicans have insisted that expansion is unwise because the future of the law, and the money to pay for care, was uncertain. 


I haven't had my blood pressure medicine since September, I can't afford it. $95 for a one month's supply, versus the electric bill? Putting the gas in the car?

But now that Republicans on the federal level have failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe says the program, and money, are secure.


“The ACA is now the law of the land and it is here to stay. We here in Virginia need to get smart, we need to bring the money back," said the Governor during a recent press conference. "We have about $6.6 million a day that would come back to Virginia to our healthcare providers to provide health care for up to 400,000 of our citizens.”


It’s certainly changed the conversation in other states. In a surprising turn around, conservative lawmakers in Kansas voted overwhelmingly to expand their Medicaid program -- although their Governor vetoed the measure. In Maine the issue will be taken straight to voters as a ballot referendum next fall.

Related: Mapping Potential Medicaid Expansion

But here in Virginia, many Republicans say their position is unchanged. 


“Our Republican caucus believes minimal government, in government doing only what it must,” said Delegate Jimmie Massie, of Henrico, a couple months ago.


He outlined the Republican caucus position on the house floor during this year's session, arguing Medicaid is the largest entitlement program in the state and costs are rising. 


“As such we cannot prudently responsibly expand such an entitlement program at this time," he said. "We must reform it and look for the Virginia way. And that is exactly what we’re doing in this house.”


Republican state lawmaker Scott Garrett, a doctor who represents Lynchburg, argues access to insurance doesn’t fix rising costs, nor does it guarantee people will take care of themselves. He thinks lawmakers should focus on improving the health safety net, like supporting free clinics.


But here at the capitol, home healthcare worker Lauralyn Clark hopes lawmakers will have a change of heart on Medicaid. 


She says, if she had insurance, the first thing she would do is go get her blood pressure medicine. 


“I haven’t had my blood pressure medicine since September, I can’t afford it. $95 for a one month’s supply, versus the electric bill? Putting the gas in the car?" she explains. "I gotta keep a roof over my head, my daughter just found out she’s pregnant. 


Her daughter is 27 and a waitress. She can’t afford health insurance either, but now she’s pregnant she qualifies for Medicaid through the first two months after the baby is born. 


For that, Lauralyn Clark is grateful. 


Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.
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