By Sen. Louis Lucas
Anyone who has experienced getting older knows gray hair and aches and pains come with the territory. Stiff joints or diminished eyesight affect some. Illness affects others.
People close to me know I’ve recently dealt with medical conditions that knocked me down. As challenging as that has been, I’m thankful to be on the road to recovery. I credit the power of prayer, faith in God, family support, and my good fortune in having access to qualified doctors and nurses who helped get me back on my feet.
I’m sad to say, however, that thousands of hard-working Virginians are without reliable access to health care services. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
The Virginia Senate has before it state budget legislation with a bipartisan plan to extend health care coverage to 400,000 uninsured Virginians. These are working adults who earn less than $17,000 a year. In Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Suffolk, more than 12,000 people would be helped.
I have served in the Virginia Senate since 1992 and have cast important votes affecting the schools our children attend, the roads we drive on and many other critical issues. And I can unequivocally say that helping vulnerable Virginians is as consequential as anything I’ve done in 26 years of General Assembly service.
It’s not exaggeration to say the lack of access to quality medical treatment can literally be a life-or-death situation for people who are sick or hurt. In America, people without insurance receive care. That is the law. But they often get emergency treatment rather than preventative services to maintain their health.
Depending mostly on emergency care for uninsured people isn’t cost effective or in patients’ best interests. It’s also an economic drain on taxpayers.
More than 700,000 Virginians lack health insurance. We can cut that number in half through a plan that brings our state tax dollars back from Washington. The fact that taking this step would help thousands should be reason enough to move forward with Medicaid expansion in Virginia. For those who need further convincing, you should know that the financial case for expansion is overwhelming.
Virginia is losing $5 million every day by not expanding coverage. We have missed out on more than $10 billion in funding since 2014. This funding would help thousands of Virginians and strengthen the economy by supporting job growth and new investments.
And since this funding would offset current state spending, freeing up resources for other needs, Virginia would save millions of dollars over the next several years. This financial flexibility would enable us to invest in priorities such as education and transportation, and put more into Virginia’s reserve funds for lean times to come.
The alternative is to continue rejecting this opportunity despite the consequences. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in the Senate seem willing to risk a state government shutdown to prevent positive progress. The plan before the Senate has been approved by the House of Delegates as a compromise that brings together Democrats and Republicans in a fiscally responsible way.
Let me be clear: There are aspects of the House plan I don’t like. Its work requirements are largely unnecessary because the majority of people who would gain coverage already work in jobs that don’t offer health insurance. But that is the nature of compromise. The greater good is served by this proposal, which is why both parties have come together to support it.
Virginia hasn’t always been at the forefront of progress. From school segregation to social stratification, I have lived through difficult chapters of Virginia history. My ancestors faced conditions much worse.
Today, 32 other states have already adopted coverage expansion plans to the benefit of their people and economies while the commonwealth lags behind. But as the cliché goes: Better late than never.
With the prospect of coverage expansion in sight, I implore my Senate colleagues to embrace bipartisan compromise on health care coverage for the good of our fellow Virginians.