BY JIM HALL and CHELYEN DAVIS / THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Jay Fuller, 63, lives alone in Caroline County. He earns less than $800 a month as a self-employed flooring contractor. He has health problems, but no insurance.
Fuller counts himself among the thousands of Virginians who would be eligible for health insurance under a proposed expansion of the Medicaid program.
He favors that expansion, and on Friday joined Virginia Organizing, an advocacy group, to lobby legislators in Richmond to approve it.
Fuller and others in his group delivered candy watches to legislators’ offices, as a reminder that time matters: If Virginia delays expanding Medicaid, it will lose federal money that would otherwise go for people’s health care.
The group found mostly secretaries and legislative aides at the lawmakers’ offices. But in Del. Joe Johnson’s office, Fuller was encouraged. Johnson, a Democrat from Southwest Virginia, backs the expansion, since it would help many of his constituents, his aide said.
Fuller is the type of person the Virginia Poverty Law Center had in mind when it said that an expanded Medicaid program would help low-income, uninsured adults, who “often work in the service and construction sectors,” and need help with chronic health conditions.
“He is a great example of someone who is working hard and can’t afford insurance. This would help him out,” said Jill Hanken, health attorney for the Poverty Law Center.
Fuller said he’s worked for 40 years in the flooring business, installing tile, linoleum and carpet.
He said he knows numerous other contractors, like himself, who don’t have insurance and are embarrassed to seek help.
Like him, some have health problems and can’t afford the bills from a hospital visit.
Fuller’s health problems began in 2010, when he was taken by ambulance to Mary Washington Hospital with a suspected stroke.
“Darkness was coming to my eyes. My blood pressure was way out of whack,” he said.
Since then, he’s learned to control his blood pressure with regular doctor visits and two medications. He also has diabetes, which he controls through diet, he said.
Fuller gets help at the Community Health Center of the Rappahannock Region in Fredericksburg, where he qualifies for the sliding-scale price of $20 per visit. He gets his prescriptions at Walmart for $7 a month.
“If I could get Medicaid, I can see any doctor,” he said.
Fuller is ineligible for Medicaid under current rules.
In Virginia, the federal/state program is reserved mostly for children, pregnant women, the disabled, some elderly and those in long-term care facilities.
Low-income, childless adults such as Fuller are ineligible.
Expansion would allow those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,400 per year, to join the program.
Fuller said he’s frustrated at the tone of the Medicaid debate. He feels like those who oppose the expansion portray those who support it as people who don’t work.
He said he and his friends, are “hardworking people,” and he thinks the government would do better to spend some money to help them stay healthy, rather than see them with costly medical bills when a crisis hits.
Fuller likened it to maintaining a car. It’s cheaper to change the oil than replace the engine, he said.