KEY POINT: "As it stands, uninsured Virginians are less likely to receive preventative treatment and some folks put off care too long. This can cost people jobs, leave them less healthy and make them more financially vulnerable. We can help spare people that fate. Missing this opportunity condemns those Virginians to a physically and financially harmful status quo.”
By Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Chair, Delegate Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico County, Charles City County, and Richmond City)
As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a courageous leader taken from us 50 years ago by a cowardly assassin, it is important to remember our duty to carry on his legacy of fighting for basic human rights.
Right now in Virginia, our community has an opportunity to use its voice to support an important human rights goal within reach - greater access to healthcare for uninsured Virginians. The means for accomplishing this is Medicaid expansion, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, a signature legislative achievement of former President Obama.
Medicaid expansion will help as many as 400,000 low-income marginalized Virginians by providing them with access to quality healthcare in their communities. This is an issue of significant importance to African-Americans and people in other under-served communities as well.
Improving access to care leads to better health outcomes for people and positive economic results for many of the 32 states that have done what Virginia hasn’t - expand Medicaid eligibility to childless adults earning less than $16,754. While important strides have been made since Dr. King’s tragic death, many African-Americans still struggle to reach the mountaintop he referenced in his final speech.
Today our community still faces higher unemployment rates than white Americans (6.9 percent compared to 3.6 percent), greater poverty (22 percent compared to 9 percent), and barriers to quality health care (20 percent of Virginia’s uninsured population is African-American). Increasing health coverage for disadvantaged Virginians will improve their lives and potentially lead to more opportunities.
As it stands, uninsured Virginians are less likely to receive preventative treatment and some folks put off care too long. This can cost people jobs, leave them less healthy and make them more financially vulnerable. We can help spare people that fate.
Missing this opportunity condemns those Virginians to a physically and financially harmful status quo. Many uninsured folks get care from safety net providers like community health centers and free clinics. This includes African-Americans, impoverished, rural white people and others.
Each year, thousands of folks wait hours and days for free medical and dental services at the Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise County. The event has been called a “place of last resort for people who can’t afford insurance even under Obamacare or who don’t qualify for Medicaid in a state where the legislature has resisted expansion.”
In a prosperous state in a wealthy nation, it is shameful that’s the only way some people can get care. Sadly, many African-Americans in Richmond have that in common with white people in Southwest Virginia. There are 14,700 Richmonders who could get coverage under Medicaid expansion. This is a moral imperative for the African-American community and thousands more.
The challenges confronting our communities won’t be solved overnight. But we can use our voices to continue Dr. King’s progress toward justice for all men and women and the fulfillment of his dream for a society that treats everyone with dignity.