One winter night a few years ago, I went for a walk with my dog, and awoke in a hospital with serious injuries but no idea how they'd occurred. I'd been struck by a car and later learned that motorists who had witnessed the accident left their vehicles to protect me and my dog as I lay unconscious on a dark, busy roadway.
I'm grateful for the intervention of those Samaritans. Recognizing a vulnerable stranger in need, they acted quickly to prevent further harm and summon help. Thanks to them and medical treatment, my family was spared suffering, and my dog and I are walking today.
It's sobering to consider what would have happened if they hadn't acted, as, unfortunately, sometimes occurs.
Consider the disturbing dilemma facing many of our low-income neighbors for whom health insurance is a financial impossibility. Hundreds of thousands of working Virginians, including some of our hardest-working, are trapped in Virginia's coverage gap, stranded without access to diagnosis or treatment, helpless to prevent approaching medical disaster.
Like me, they'll end up in the emergency room, if they get there in time (many don't), where medical staff will labor mightily to save their lives at great expense. But once stabilized and released, they'll have trouble getting follow-up treatment, including medication, without insurance. Many will have little choice but to wait for the next race to the emergency room and pray they beat the odds.
But sooner or later, the odds catch up with you. Like many others, I've seen firsthand what happens when Virginians who lack health-care insurance forgo the medication and care they need: They die prematurely, leaving a permanent hole in the families and the communities left to mourn their early but preventable deaths.
Fortunately, there's a solution to the deadly dilemma that a decisive majority of Virginians already approve. Like the Samaritans who protected me, most Virginians recognize the importance of protecting lives and support closing the coverage gap with a plan that combines 90 percent federal Medicaid funding and a hospital supplement, requiring little state outlay.
The plan would not only save lives but also bring billions of dollars in Virginians' federal taxes back home, creating thousands of jobs and significant savings needed elsewhere in the state budget. Nonpartisan experts say it also represents the single most effective tool available to address Virginia's opioid emergency and urgent mental-health resource shortages, providing access to more than 100,000 residents in need of treatment.
Unfortunately, so far the GOP majority in the General Assembly has blocked all solutions, with a years-long obstruction strategy that has achieved only irrecoverable loss in the commonwealth: many hundreds of lives, more than $10 billion in Virginians' federal taxes and hundreds of millions in state budget savings. Gone forever. The strategy has starved our communities of thousands of jobs and critical resources for mental health, addiction treatment and other pressing needs, while draining the state treasury, hospitals and insured families' pockets for costs Medicaid would have paid.
Despite the growing human toll and economic toll (which increases $5 million daily), some legislators in Richmond remain committed to obstruction and delay. A recent appeal from a conservative group long opposed to a Medicaid solution urged a two-year study before acting. The maneuver recalled memories of an earlier assembly when members demanded Medicaid reforms before moving forward. The reforms were accomplished about four years ago. Partisans promptly responded with new arguments against taking action.
Virginia families have already endured four long years of studying the costs of doing nothing. During each of those years, hundreds of Virginians' lives and billions of dollars were needlessly and permanently lost to obstruction. Those losses, combined with a substantial body of objective economic research, overwhelmingly argue for closing the gap now. So do common sense and basic decency.
The 2018 session offers our General Assembly a fresh chance to save lives and prevent further economic harm. Many legislators have stepped up, but more are needed. We cannot afford lawmakers operating on political autopilot, content to just drive on by a growing calamity, comfortably oblivious behind partisan-tinted windshields. The General Assembly alone holds the key. Virginia families need you now.
I'm deeply grateful for those Samaritans who had my back. For lawmakers who recognize the urgent need to act, please know the majority of Virginians have yours.
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