Advocates for the poor are pushing to revive the debate over expanding Medicaid coverage in Virginia even as lawmakers in Richmond passed a budget Thursday that strips out the additional health-care coverage.
In rallies and candlelight vigils across the state, the advocates are highlighting the stories of some of the 400,000 low-income patients in Virginia who they say would be newly eligible for the government-funded program.
“They have said from day one that they wanted to have a budget and then have a conversation and move forward with Medicaid expansion,” said Anna Scholl, head of Progress VA, one of several groups planning a Thursday night vigil in Centreville to highlight local cases.
About 50 people rallied in Lorton earlier in the week after Democratic state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett’s surprise retirement gave Republicans control of the Virginia Senate and new leverage in budget talks.
“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation has ended,” Scholl said.
About 73,110 people in Northern Virginia would be affected by expanding Medicaid eligibility requirements, which would allow U.S. citizens who earn as much as 133 percent of the federal poverty line to get treatment funded by federal and state dollars.
Current requirements limit eligibility to people earning as much as 36 percent of the federal poverty line, or nearly $8,900 a year for a family of four.
Erasmo Marquez, 53, said he has tried several times to get Medicaid to pay for treatment related to his cirrhosis, a liver disease that has kept him bedridden inside a Woodbridge basement apartment he shares with his wife and two children.
“My wife; she can’t do this anymore,” Marquez said, his yellowing skin noticeable in the dim light shining from a bedside table that also held several bottles of medication and a stack of unpaid hospital bills.
A once broad-shouldered soldier in El Salvador who escaped that country’s civil war nearly 30 years ago, Marquez was forced to quit working as a stonemason in Washington shortly after he began vomiting blood and experiencing severe dizzy spells.
Shortly after that, he lost his health insurance. Since Marquez was diagnosed in 2012, the family has lost a house to foreclosure, forcing them to move to a succession of apartments with cheaper and cheaper rent.
They currently live on the $19,000 his wife earns as a housekeeper — too much to qualify for Medicaid. Doctors have told him that he needs a liver transplant, which Marquez said he can’t afford.
“Life. God has not smiled on us,” he said, smiling faintly.
For Stephanie Cruise, 23, getting Medicaid would mean not having to pay the $250 a month she pays her current insurer, which eats up much of her income as a part-time cashier.
Cruise was born with vocal-cord paralysis and a host of other conditions that affect her ability to breathe and speak, making a full-time job impossible, she said.
Using an inhaler to speak, Cruise said the news that state lawmakers declined to expand passed coverage has her worried.
“Honestly, I really don’t know what to do now,” she said. She took another deep sip of air from her inhaler before adding: “It’s really bizarre.”