Virginia Organizing leaders and community members gathered in Fredericksburg on Sunday at 9 a.m. to protest the actions of Speaker of the House of Delegates William Howell on Medicaid expansion. Speaker Howell has consistently blocked all efforts to expand Medicaid and has submitted no plan for 400,000 Virginians to get health insurance coverage.
The group met at the Hard Times Café parking lot to hear from local leaders on Medicaid expansion and then marched to the Route 1 Bridge for a silent vigil. A small group of people delivered messages from constituents to Speaker Howell’s office in a handcrafted coffin, symbolic of up to 1,000 people who could die this year in Virginia due to a lack of health insurance.
Eunice Haigler is a Virginia Organizing Fredericksburg Chapter leader and one of the Virginians that would benefit from Medicaid expansion. She spoke at the vigil on Sunday.
“I was always told Virginia is for lovers, but where is the love for me?” said Haigler. “Medicaid expansion would help me get life-changing treatments for chronic conditions and would bring jobs to Virginia. I wish Speaker Howell would stop thinking about his own feelings toward the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid and start thinking about the 400,000 Virginians who need coverage and are being denied that coverage by the Speaker. Mr. Speaker, please hear the voices of your constituents: we need health care now.”
Well-known community leaders joined Haigler, including former Mayor of Fredericksburg Reverend Lawrence Davies.
“Medicaid expansion is a moral issue that has been overly politicized,” said Davies. “This is about how humans relate to each other. Those who are unable to receive health care services for whatever reason are still part of the human ‘chain’ and still belong in our communities. We are already paying for Medicaid expansion to make sure that those who need services the most are being covered, why would we think it’s ok to leave our fellow humans out in the cold without health care? This program is not a handout, it’s a hand up to proactively get basic health care needs satisfied.”
Dr. Patrick Neustatter, medical director of a free clinic and Virginia Organizing supporter, believes expanding Medicaid in Virginia is the reasonable and right thing to do.
“As a doctor and medical director of a free clinic, I see so many people who are uninsured or have lost their insurance, who are sick through bad luck. Not because of something they have done wrong. People just get sick,” said Neustatter. “In a wealthy society we should be able to care for these people who otherwise finish up made destitute by their illness. There are compelling moral and medical reasons to expand Medicaid. And it makes financial sense as it allows preventive care and keeps people out of emergency rooms. If legislators would just see sense, put aside political ideology, stop trying to follow their own agenda, and instead do what’s best for Virginia.”
Virginia Organizing will continue to work to raise the voices of directly affected people in order to call on elected officials to find solutions for their constituents.