Virginia’s freshly inaugurated 73rd governor, Dr. Ralph Northam, told nearly 400 participants in the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s annual Day for All People Tuesday that the time was right for expanding healthcare access in the Commonwealth.
“We have the availability of expanding Medicaid,” Northam said at the event’s morning kick-off at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, “of making sure that close to 400,000 working Virginians have access to healthcare. There are individuals who are working one, two and three jobs but they can’t afford coverage because the cost of healthcare has risen a lot faster than people’s salaries.
“No individual, no family, should be one medical illness away from financial demise,” the governor continued. “We as a society have to decide whether healthcare is a right or is it a privilege. And personally, having taken care of thousands of children and their families, nobody in this country, in Virginia should have to make a decision as to whether they stay home or go and seek medical care.
“Every day that we don’t expand healthcare not only are we are losing, but we’re giving to other states we compete with, $6 million a day. Since January, 2014, we’ve given away $10 billion – billion with a b – dollars.”
The record turnout for the Day for All People also heard from new State Secretary of Health and Human Recourses Dr. Daniel Carey, who echoed the governor’s take on Medicaid expansion and also predicted success in 2018.
“We in Virginia have waited too long,” Carey said. “Ten billion (dollars) in the last five years that we have forgone simply because of an ideology that divides us. This program may have economic challenges in the future, but to acknowledge that, and that this program has benefitted so many other states with decreased healthcare costs for many conditions. Not our own. We should make sure those additional resources are available to the people of Virginia. Finally I sense that, with your help, and with your advocacy, and other groups like yours, along with the governor’s support and so much support in the General Assembly, we will be successful this year.”
“It’s a question of simple justice to me,” Carey added, “a question of fairness, a question of how could we not do this in order to help so many of our brothers and sisters who are in need?”
The Day for All People participants spent time at legislative offices in the Pocahontas Building in the morning, meeting with their local lawmakers. After lunch, they joined one of five different workshops.
Gov. Northam also touched on other issues during his speech, including gun violence. “I grew up on the Eastern Shore, hunting and fishing,” he said. “I respect the Second Amendment. But I’ve also had some experiences in my life that have put things in perspective. One was serving in the United States Army for eight years. I took care of wounded soldiers during Desert Storm, I know all too well what weapons of war do to human beings. We do not need these weapons of war on our streets and in our society. We have work to do. We need to promote responsible gun ownership.”
Northam again urged the General Assembly to raise the nation’s lowest threshold for felony theft. “If someone makes a mistake, uses poor judgment, and picks up a used iPhone or a pair of boots that’s work more than $200, they’re going to be changed with a felony. They’re going to enter our prison system and have their lives ruined. In the process there’s legislation to raise it to $500 – personally I think it should be a bit higher, but things happen in stages here.”
He also encouraged a climate of welcome and inclusiveness toward all people in Virginia. “If you look around this beautiful church we’re in, you will see that we live in a diverse society and getting more diverse every day. It is that diversity that makes Virginia who we are, and we need to recognize that.”