Charlottesville, Va.—As members of Congress return home for the August recess, Virginia Organizing held a media tele-conference on Wednesday, August 9 featuring seniors and advocates urging representatives to reject renewed efforts to dramatically cut Medicaid and Medicare in the coming federal budget. These Virginia leaders also called on state legislators to expand Medicaid, now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “remains the law of the land.”
The event was part of a national day of action jointly sponsored by Caring Across Generations (CAG) and Health Care for America Now (HCAN).
The speakers were Dr. Mack Bonner, retired Navy veteran and retired Medical Director for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Jill Hanken, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, and Dell Erwin, a health care reform activist in Charlottesville.
Hanken drew attention to “the very serious threats in this budget proposal to health programs which low- and moderate-income families depend on.” She explained, “The budget proposal that Congress will debate in September includes threats to Medicaid that are greater than in the ACA repeal effort.”
“That 2018 budget plan would severely and disproportionately hit low- and moderate-income families and individuals, and at the same time it would provide a huge tax cut to the wealthy in the United States.” She said, “The public needs to understand that this debate is far from over, and we urge Congress to set Medicaid aside. Leave this 52-year-old program in place to do the kind of good work that it has done for millions of Americans.”
All three speakers discussed reasons why Virginia should expand Medicaid, as 31 other states have done.
Dell Erwin spoke on the topic of loss of revenue to Virginia since 2008. “The costs are not only in lives being lost, better health for many people, but also the cost to our hospitals.”
“Virginia loses $6.6 million a day in federal money by not expanding Medicaid,” Erwin said. “The Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association, which includes 109 hospitals in Virginia, claims that hospitals have lost $301 million between 2010 and 2014.”
“Our governor has said that this expansion could be structured so that it doesn’t cost the state any money,” Erwin added, “because the expansion would free up money spent elsewhere in the state budget, starting with money spent reimbursing hospitals for indigent care…so I’m hoping…our policy makers will reconsider and expand Medicaid in Virginia.”
Dr. Bonner began, “Having worked in correctional health care for 23 years, I have first hand knowledge of this problem.” He spoke about the public health crisis that could result from returning citizens not receiving Medicaid.
“Every year in the Commonwealth of Virginia, 10-12,000 people are released from state prisons. They’re mostly young or middle aged men with a prevalence of chronic diseases which is much higher than in the general population. These diseases include HIV, Hepatitis C, chronic mental illness, hypertension, and diabetes. Most of these returning citizens return to society without health insurance. They don’t qualify for current Medicaid but would be covered under Medicaid expansion. In addition to their personal health problems, public health is also threatened because these people have a very high prevalence of HIV and Hepatitis C, which represents a threat to public health.”
Dr. Bonner also said, “As a veteran of the United States Navy Medical Corps, I’m concerned about the fact that many of our veterans do not have access to health care. Most people are unaware that most veterans are not eligible for medical care through the Veterans Administration health system. Only those who have served for 20 years or have a medical disability are covered. Those who have less time in service or no disability are not covered. Yet those veterans including myself provided a great service to our nation and are deserving of medical care.”
“More than 40,000 uninsured veterans are in Virginia,” Bonner said. “Uninsured veterans are more likely to be younger, be African-American, have low incomes, and have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Almost two dozen national and regional co-sponsors also signed on to a letter of support representing the #CaringMajority, in advance of the day of action including: AARP, American Geriatrics Society, American Heart Association, Caring Across Generations, Center for Popular Democracy, Community Catalyst, Diverse Elders Coalition, Family Forward Oregon, Health Care for America Now, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jobs With Justice, Justice in Aging, MoveOn, National Alliance for Caregiving, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Hispanic Council on Aging, National Employment Law Project, National Partnership for Women & Families, PHI, Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California, 9to5: National Association of Working Women.
Virginia Organizing is a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization that brings people together to create a more just Virginia.