25 years later, my mom’s union button is still relevant. Virginians need healthcare.

When I was a kid, my mom would go to work at Giant in Woodbridge wearing a red smock covered in buttons, demonstrating pride in her job and support for her union. At the beginning of 1993, she donned a new button that read, “Tell Hillary you want what I got: decent healthcare.”

When my 13-year-old self  asked my mom what her button meant, she told me, “People in this country can’t see a doctor because they can’t afford to. We’re lucky because we have a union that fights for us to have health insurance.” My mom’s button was about the Clinton administration’s early efforts to address America’s affordable healthcare crisis; former First Lady Hillary Clinton led a national task force to tackle the issue.  

Fast forward 25 years later and we’re STILL fighting for the same thing: access to affordable healthcare.

This is an issue that has affected me most of my life. If my parents weren’t members of a union, we probably wouldn’t have a lot of things— health insurance being one of them. I’ve experienced long periods of time without health insurance as an adult. I know what it’s like to live with the constant worry of something catastrophic happening to my health that would either kill me or bankrupt me forever. It’s an awful place to be.

It took 18 years and two presidents later to get the job done. I was more than thrilled when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed by President Obama in 2010. Three years later, I took a job with a healthcare advocacy non-profit, where I interviewed people all over the country about how the ACA improved their lives. I heard first-hand accounts from hundreds of people whose lives had been turned around by the ACA. They excitedly gushed to me about how they could see a doctor for the first time in a long time, pay for their prescriptions and treat illnesses that they couldn’t treat in the past.

I also interviewed people who lived in the 27 states that didn’t expand Medicaid—one of the central components of the ACA—and remained uninsured. Virginia was one of those states.

But in 2013, Virginians gained new hope when Terry McAuliffe was elected Governor on the promise of expanding Medicaid.

Every year, Governor McAuliffe put Medicaid expansion in the state budget and every year, Medicaid expansion was blocked by state Republicans furnishing bogus excuses to not expand Medicaid. Former Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, for example, said it was “a bad idea”. That guy was voted out and replaced by a lawmaker who did favor Medicaid expansion.

During this year’s General Assembly session, I sat in shock as I watched Senate Republicans continue to argue against Medicaid expansion. During a recent committee hearing, I remember Senator Amanda Chase say these exact words: “Medicaid actually… harms the poor.”

Amanda Chase is SO WRONG.  Medicaid not only helps low-income people, but it protects middle-class families, seniors, children and people with disabilities. Nationally,
9.6 million people gained access to affordable healthcare through Medicaid expansion. But 400,000 Virginians have missed out on health coverage because of obstructionism from Senator Chase and her fellow Senators Glen Sturtevant, Siobhan Dunnavant, Frank Wagner and Bill DeSteph.

The time is now. Virginia must expand Medicaid.

400,000 lives are on the line. Governor Ralph Northam has called for a special session of the General Assembly to decide on Medicaid expansion. Contact your Senators, tell your friends and relatives who live in Republican Senator districts to contact their legislators and urge them to vote in favor of Medicaid expansion. Virginia can’t wait any longer.