Faith leaders urge Medicaid expansion

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

Leaders of different faiths gathered at Williamsburg Baptist Church Friday morning, focusing on their shared ideals in a plea to promote Virginia Medicaid expansion. The press conference was one of 11 held across the commonwealth through a partnership between Virginia Organizing and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“It’s the community of faith that can galvanize as well as mobilize,” said Rev. Dr. Anthony Fludd, a VICPP board member and one of Friday’s speakers. “You get people of faith speaking out, things begin to happen.”

Other speakers included Seneca Bock, president of the Nansemond-Suffolk branch of the NAACP, Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill of Tidewater Chavurah and William and Mary campus minister Max Blalock. Pastor Daniel Wilson said he was proud to host such a call to action at his church.

The speakers urged those in attendance to share their thoughts with legislators and spread the word between family and friends.

“Medicaid expansion saves lives. Medicaid expansion creates jobs,” said Dr. John Whitley, another VICPP board member who spoke at the event.

The press conferences coincided with the Commonwealth Institute’s release of a 16-page chartbook breaking down the current Medicaid situation and potential impact of its expansion in anticipation of the General Assembly’s 2018 session.

Virginia’s Medicaid program covers three in 10 low-income adults and two-thirds of low-income children, but thousands of other Virginians fall in the income gap between qualifying for Medicaid and meeting eligibility for Affordable Care Act tax credits, according to the institute’s analysis.

“One important conclusion that this report documents is that Virginia’s Medicaid program is stingy,” said Dr. Karen McPherson, a retired Newport News public school teacher who spoke at the event. She emphasized that Virginia ranks 46th among the 50 states in its Medicaid investment funding per capita.

John Schwenkler was among some 30 people in the crowd outside the church. He said his experience as a volunteer for Williamsburg Walk the Talk, which helps mentor people leaving the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, helped him better understand an issue many people don’t give much thought.

“This Medicaid expansion would fill the gap for a lot of these people getting out of jail,” he said.

Diane Langhorst also turned out to hear the leaders speak, motivated because she said people don’t do enough to consider the human cost of legislative decisions such as this.

“We’re hoping our political leaders will see the light,” she said.

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Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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