WISE, Va. — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s frustration at the lack of Medicaid expansion in Virginia was apparent Friday as he walked the grounds of the Wise County Fairgrounds, talking to people who turn out to get free health care once a year.
McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel visited the Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise, talking to patients and providers about the obstacles faced in getting health care to some of the neediest in the state.
“You cannot walk around here and see all these folks and not understand they need help,” McAuliffe said. “They need health care. It is time for us to do the right thing and close the coverage gap.”
After the General Assembly passed a budget without expanding Medicaid coverage, McAuliffe vowed to find a way to expand health care access.
“Until you come down here and walk around with these folks and hear their stories, you cannot comprehend how tough people’s lives are,” McAuliffe said. “The attorney general and I believe it’s our responsibility to fight for these people.”
Part of his pitch Friday was for local patients to tell their state delegates to push for expansion.
All delegates in far Southwest Virginia are Republican and have spoken out against expanding Medicaid for several months.
McAuliffe said that under Medicaid expansion, many of those seeking services at RAM would have coverage.
“They could go to a primary-care doctor,” he said. “ ... When you talk to these folks and they’ve been here [waiting] for 30 hours to get care one day a year, that is not how you do health care in this country and it’s clearly not how we should be doing it in the commonwealth of Virginia. We need preventative care, and we need to get folks care before they have problems. What happens today in Virginia is that many of these folks here, their family doctor is the emergency room, and we are paying many, many times more the cost. If we would do the morally, socially, financially right thing, we would not see this RAM facility the way it is here today.”
Some people, like patient Sam Chandler, of Dryden, a retired coal miner, think that part of the answer is bringing jobs to the area. The region has experienced the loss of hundreds of coal jobs in recent months.
“I have Medicare, but this doesn’t take dental,” Chandler said while waiting after having some dental work done. “Dental is something that nobody’s got and that’s a major cost.”
For about an hour, Herring and McAuliffe, both Democrats, toured the different services offered at RAM. Hazel, an orthopedic surgeon, saw patients throughout the day.