By DeForrest Ballou
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A statewide group of religious leaders urged the General Assembly on Thursday to expand Medicare and Medicaid.
Organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the team of multi-denominational and multi-religion officials represented 850 faith leaders from across Virginia. They said their goal is to bring health care to the 300,000 Virginians who would benefit from expansion of Medicare and Medicaid.
Expanding access to health care would help alleviate the opioid crisis and create 15,000 jobs in hospitals and clinics, the center said.
“It is not a matter of charity to extend health care to people who do not have access to health care. It is a basic moral law and act of human decency,” said Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia.
Health care in the state has been a hot topic in recent weeks. During a public hearing on the proposed state budget for 2018-2020, over half of the more than 80 speakers supported expanding programs like Medicaid.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged the General Assembly to do so during his State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday. And Virginia House and Senate Democrats announced Thursday that Medicaid expansion is their top goal for this legislative session.
In past years, Republicans have blocked the idea, fearing it would be a financial burden on state government. But this year may be different, said Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
“We believe that Medicaid expansion is an opportunity and that we have a great chance to make it happen this year. The legislators on both sides of the aisle are interested in the issue. So we just need to get enough people to say yes,” Bobo said.
Her group has been working to achieve that goal – by circulating petitions, writing letters and meeting with legislators. The Interfaith Center will hold its annual advocacy day on Jan. 23.
“I’m a little worried that we are going to not be able to hold all of the people because so many people want to come and be a part of this,” Bobo said.