Last week I had the honor of meeting Stan Brock, the legendary “Wild Kingdom” TV star and founder and president of Remote Area Medical (RAM). He held a press conference in Richmond to announce the details of expanding the Remote Area Medical program in Virginia. (www.RAMUSA.org) Already RAM sponsors a once-a-year health clinic in Wise County in Southwest Virginia where thousands come on a weekend for the only medical care they will receive all year. The expanded effort in Virginia will be headed by Dr. Vicki Weiss who has been providing volunteer eye care with RAM for over 15 years. Also participating in the press conference was Dr. Teresa Gardiner who serves on the Health Wagon in the region that was featured on 60 Minutes recently.
Stan Brock started RAM in 1985 primarily to help people in South America who did not have access to health care, but as he explained at the press conference he soon expanded to this country for the needs in Appalachia, Virginia, and other parts of the country are as great as any third world country. Last year RAM served nearly 2,000 people in Virginia, but with the expanded program “Stop the Suffering” over the next two years RAM expects to have a clinic within driving distance of everyone living in Appalachia. Stan Brock talked about “the people we do not see but whose health care needs in Virginia could not be greater” with no references to politics, ideology, or partisanship.
In contrast, there were several informational meetings on Medicaid expansion held last week in locations throughout the state, including one in nearby Ashburn. From talking to persons who attended the meeting and reading press accounts, I was struck by the sharp contrast with the press conference I had attended. These “informational” meetings were sponsored by the Koch Brothers funded Americans for Prosperity that is spending millions in the state to defeat what it disdainfully refers to as Obamacare. Invited to participate in these meetings were only delegates opposed to any expansion of Medicaid. The meetings focused on legislative maneuvering, constitutional issues and placing blame for the budget impasse. There was talk of a “clean budget.” By separating the budget negotiations and the expansion of Medicaid, Americans for Prosperity and their legislative puppets hope to defeat expansion of Medicaid in the state. What wasn’t said is that separating Medicaid expansion from the budget would ignore 20 percent of current expenditures and the potential for five million dollars a day in revenue to serve those most in need of health insurance. Noticeably absent from the delegates were real-life references to the people in need of health care.
It is time for legislators in Richmond to stop talking politics and start listening to the people in need of healthcare and to those in the community who have health insurance but are concerned for the people who do not. The contrast is stark between those who want to wage a partisan ideological battle to deliver a defeat to the President and those who want to help people who desperately need health care.