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Progressive activists discuss limited Medicaid Expansion

“We see this as the next best step,” Greenberg says, “[McAuliffe] did what he had the authority to do"

Local grassroots organization Virginia Organizing held a forum Thursday night to discuss Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s newly proposed health care expansion plan. The plan, which aims to expand public health insurance coverage to more than 25,000 Virginians, is a markedly more modest approach than the strategy outlined in McAuliffe’s original platform, which hoped to provide healthcare to 400,000 Virginians under Medicaid expansion.

Held at the Charlottesville City Council Chambers, the forum focused on support for Medicaid expansion as a whole and invited Executive Director Robert Johnson, Charlottesville Chapter Leader Dell Erwin and Legislative Coordinator Ben Greenberg to speak on behalf of McAuliffe’s plan. The upcoming General Assembly meeting on Medicaid expansion is scheduled for Sept. 18.

“At one end, there’s Medicaid for certain low-income people,” Erwin said. “At the other end are those with higher incomes who qualify for the [Affordable Care Act] Marketplace and its subsidies, [and] then those who can afford private insurance or have it through employers. Refusing to close this Medicaid gap affects some 400,000 Virginians in astounding and heartbreaking ways, some moral, some fiscal.”

Johnson said Virginia is losing millions of dollars each day, while Erwin pointed out that among states, Virginia now ranks 43rd in Medicaid enrollment and 47th in per capita Medicaid despite ranking eighth wealthiest state in the nation in 2013. All panelists spoke at length on the partisan issues which prevent Medicaid expansion from passing, citing misinformation and fear as the main causes of the delays on legislation.

“It’s an issue in which emotions seem to reign,” Greenberg said. “Unfortunately, the facts have not won out.”

Erwin expressed the importance of University students getting involved with policymaking at the state level, especially in terms of Medicaid.

“I believe that most young people care about their fellow citizens that will be affected by this,” Erwin said. “I know that most people will be affected by cuts their state has to make.”

McAuliffe proposed a more moderated health care coverage expansion plan earlier this week. Johnson and Greenberg recognized the action as progressive, but also said they feel the need to keep pushing for coverage for more Virginians.

“We see this as the next best step,” Johnson said, in response to whether or not the McAuliffe plan satisfies Virginia’s health care needs. “He did what he had the authority to do. … He accepted the fact that he did not have the authority to do that and he did what he could to help the Virginia community.”

Greenberg predicts difficulty with the McAuliffe’s new plan at the General Assembly meeting Sept. 18.

“It is indeed a step forward, but because it doesn’t go as far as we would want,” Greenberg said. “I’m not sure of how people will vote on the bill. I’m predicting that it will have a tough road.”

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