Fight for Medicaid expansion comes to Williamsburg

With the General Assembly gridlocked over the inclusion of Medicaid expansion in their state budget, members of the House of Delegates joined local healthcare experts Wednesday in a town hall discussion on the need for such a program.

The event featured panelists Del. Glenn R. Davis, R-Virginia Beach, Del. Michael P. Mullin, D-Newport News, Virginia Poverty Law Center health expert Jill Hanken and Jeff Black, executive director of the Angels of Mercy Medical Clinic in Norge, which offers care for many older Williamsburg residents who lack healthcare coverage.

Mullin and Davis both voted in support of the House’s budget bill, which included a Medicaid expansion plan, but the measure ultimately failed after the House and Senate couldn’t reconcile their different versions of the budget. Mullin says the split between the two bodies reflects the changes in the House following last November’s election clashing with the Senate’s old guard.

“The House of Delegates experienced something last year that the Senate just didn’t,” Mullin said. “The population that spoke out last year spoke almost uniformly with one voice that healthcare was their highest priority, and the House of Delegates heard that loud and clear. That hasn’t happened in the Senate. They are operating the same way that they were a year ago.”

Davis said while he doesn’t believe healthcare should be an inherent right, expanding coverage and allowing more low-income families to be eligible for the program is the right thing to do.

“It does impact all of us, and if it doesn’t impact you from a health perspective, count your blessings and be thankful it doesn’t because one day it may,” Davis said.

The proposed Medicaid plan would have expanded coverage to 2,600 people in the area, according to Mullin. He referred to them as “the working poor,” those who may be working multiple part-time jobs and are just over the poverty line, but are still not earning enough to be able to afford healthcare.

Hanken says the groups most affected by current Medicaid limitations are low-income parents, who have to be living under 50 percent of the poverty line to qualify, and older childless adults.

“For an individual, the poverty line is just $1,200 a year, so that’s really, really low,” said Hanken. “In the case of parents who can get Medicaid in Virginia right now, the coverage for them is very limited. Here in Williamsburg, in a family of three, the parents cannot get coverage unless the family’s income is under $8,000 per year.”

At least 20 Williamsburg residents were in attendance, with many voicing their concerns during a question and answer segment with the panelists. In response to a question about what local citizens could do to help the General Assembly reach consensus, Mullin asked those in attendance to contact the Senate and make their voices heard.

“Until there’s an election in 2019, there’s going to be a little bit more hesitancy on the Senate’s side,” Mullin said.

The General Assembly will reconvene for a special session on April 11 to craft a new budget bill.

Arriaza can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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