RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Several hundred supporters of Medicaid expansion gathered at the state Capitol on Saturday to send a message to Republic lawmakers who have blocked Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's top legislative priority.
People attending the rally carried signs reading "We need Medicaid expansion now" and "Medicaid expansion: Saving lives, saving money." Before hearing from a slate of speakers, the crowd got pumped up with chants of "Get sick, go broke, unacceptable!"
A legislative deadlock over Medicaid expansion caused the General Assembly to adjourn a week ago without passing the two-year, $96 billion state budget. McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly want a budget that includes accepting federal Medicaid funds to expand coverage to as many as 400,000 additional residents. Republicans who control the House of Delegates oppose expansion, saying the federal government can't be trusted to keep its promise to fully fund the expansion for the first three years and pay at least 90 percent after that.
McAuliffe has been barnstorming the state to rev up grassroots support for expansion, saying it's foolish for Virginia to allow its share of federal dollars to go to other states that are expanding Medicaid as part of the Obama administration's health care overhaul. He's counting on Republican lawmakers to have a different view after hearing from their constituents when they return later this month to resume the debate.
GOP lawmakers have said public opinion backs their position that the budget should be passed immediately and the Medicaid issue should be considered separately.
At the rally, supporters of expansion heard from two military veterans, a fast-food worker and an in-home child-care provider. They fall into what advocates call the Medicaid "coverage gap."
"It is a shame, it is a disgrace, it is a sin before God," the Rev. David Hoover said of opponents' position on Medicaid expansion. Hoover, an Army veteran, said he needs coverage for treatment of a chronic shoulder program the Veterans Administration refuses to cover.
Leah Taylor, a single mother of six who has worked in the fast-food industry for 26 years, said she can't afford treatment for high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
"We cannot be in the shadows any longer," she said.