Appeal to Norment on expanding Medicaid fell on deaf ears

These days at our state Capitol, nothing evokes more heated debate than the topic of Medicaid expansion and its impact on our biennial budget. Hanging in the balance is the well-being of 400,000 Virginians who fall in the gap between our current Medicaid program and the Health Insurance Marketplace. While our representatives in the House of Delegates compromised to pass a bipartisan budget including Medicaid expansion, the Senate was unable to do the same, compelling Gov. Northam to call a special session, which began on April 11.

As a member of the Virginia Nurses Association, I share the conviction of my organization that all Virginians should have access to safe, affordable health care and that increasing the share of federal dollars allowable for our commonwealth’s Medicaid program is the best way to achieve that objective.

Recently, two Republican senators have announced their support for expansion, signaling potential progress on the issue.

As co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, my representative, Sen. Thomas K. Norment, has great influence over the continued momentum of that progress. He has not scheduled a meeting for that committee to work on the biennial budget until May 14. So I sought him out in an attempt to advocate for the most vulnerable in our communities.

Pointing out the House’s tightened work requirement for able-bodied recipients as an area of compromise, I hoped Sen. Norment might see a way to agree that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. He conveyed his opinion that the work requirement was “a joke.” When I asked if he was really willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, he told me he was “ready to throw out the whole (darn) tub!”

Medicaid Expansion is supported by the majority of voters, even in red districts such as ours. More than 4,600 constituents, Republicans and Democrats, would be affected.

Continuing to shine a light on the issue of increased access to health care for all Virginians is a priority. It is an issue upon which Gov. Northam campaigned and won, and it is supported by the majority of Virginians, as well as countless agencies and organizations including AARP Virginia, Bon Secours Virginia, League of Women Voters Virginia, National Alliance on Mental Health Virginia, Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, ARC of Virginia and the Virginia Nurses Association.

Expanding Medicaid to provide affordable healthcare to low-income wage earners, pregnant women, children, the disabled and elderly is fiscally responsible, would result in approximately 15,000 new jobs in health care and is simply the right thing to do for our neighbors in the commonwealth.

My senator’s tone was sarcastic and his language, at times, foul. It takes more than that to intimidate me or compel me to give up on a cause in which I so firmly believe.

Advocacy is not for the thin-skinned. However, as his constituent, I expected more from the Senate Majority Leader. I went to Sen. Norment to appeal to his better angels. Sadly, I found none.

Christine Payne

Williamsburg

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