Senator Emmett Hanger’s Fight for Medicaid Expansion
by, Daniel Williams, University of Richmond Student


“We are talking about people in the lower income levels who simply cannot afford good quality healthcare.”
Senator Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.

May 30, 2018 marked a pivotal day in Virginia’s history. Following a five-year battle, Medicaid Expansion was signed into law, making health care coverage available to 400,000 additional low-income residents. But this victory couldn’t have been achieved without State Senator Emmett W. Hanger, Jr., who championed this effort in the General Assembly.

A Republican from the 24th district in the Central Shenandoah Valley, Senator Hanger acknowledged that many in his party opposed expanding Medicaid. Nevertheless, he said, “There’s a significant majority in grassroots Republicans that [believed] as long as Congress is not going to end the program, then we should access those federal dollars, bring them back to Virginia, and be able to provide services for what is often referred to as the 400,000 people that would meet the criteria. We are talking about people in the lower income levels who simply cannot afford good healthcare.”

Senator Hanger is grateful to organizations like the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) and other advocacy groups that worked for five years to expand Medicaid. He said, “One of the big groups that was really helpful to me in many ways was the alliance of faith-based groups that organized statewide at a point where we were really in the midst of a fierce debate.” He added, “I actually got a communication one weekend that said there was a network of 800 pastors and churches throughout the state praying for me and that really made a big difference for me not only in the outreach they were making to convince others that this was the right thing to do, but also in my resolve.”

Describing the events leading up to Medicaid expansion, Senator Hanger said, “We had quite a debate and it actually was over a period of a couple days when it actually came to a climax.” When asked how he felt when the bill was finally signed he replied, “Certainly clearing those legislative hurdles and then being able to come back to Richmond and the governor officially signed [it]; that was a great day!”

Senator Hanger was honored with VICPP’s “Health Care Advocacy Award” for his extraordinary leadership as the primary champion for Medicaid Expansion in the Senate at VICPP’s September 26, 2018 Award and Celebration Event.

Video: Senator Emmett Hanger’s acceptance speech at VICPP Award and Celebration Event

Senator Hanger and Jill Hanken (Virginia Poverty Law Center) outside the Hippodrome Theater at VICPP’s Annual Celebration and Award Event, Sept. 26, 2018 (Photo credit: Taylor Jones)

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), left, Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, Jr. (R-Augusta) and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) have a spirited discussion during the floor session of the Virginia Senate as it met to deal with the state budget at the State Capitol on May 22, 2018.
(Photo credit: Bob Brown/AP)