Virginia Interfaith Center calls for Medicaid expansion from legislators

RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ7) As Virginia lawmakers continue their second day of General Assembly Thursday, one major issue hoping to be tackled is healthcare reform. Thursday morning, one group called upon legislators to do, what they called, the right thing.

The Virginia Interfaith Center said they have signatures from more than 850 religious leaders on a statement calling the General Assembly to expand Medicaid by drawing down federal dollars.

Bishop Susan Goff of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia said, “I believe with all my heart that it grieves the heart of Jesus that 300,000 people in the Commonwealth of Virginia don't have healthcare because they fall in that gap.”

House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said, while he believes faith based leaders have a strong place in society, this group’s premise is flawed.

“That is the function of charities and of churches and of people of faith to have that sort of compassion,” the Republican Delegate from the 15th District said. “As far as our tax payer dollars go, we have a system that is already failing. We cannot afford the Medicaid responsibilities that we have right now.”

Members of the Virginia Interfaith Center argue $300,000 Virginians can't afford their own healthcare, but don’t qualify for current Medicaid.

Reverend Tom Joyce of the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church said of the cost, “Just one illness can wipe them out and their family financially forever.”

So the group wants the Commonwealth to cover the cost.

Reverend Elisha Burke of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia said, “It is within the power of our General Assembly, our legislators, to really proclaim that Virginia is a Commonwealth that truly cares for all of its people.”

But Gilbert said, “For people to say that we should just willy-nilly expand that to another half a million people who are able bodied adults who are working or are child-less, that sort of expansion is not what the Medicaid program was intended to be.”

Some Republicans have said Healthcare can only be reformed by first repealing Obamacare.

Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy Executive Director Kim Bobo said to that, “Across the board the faith community opposes repealing the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and Virginia has an opportunity to expand Medicaid and we should do it this year.”

Gilbert also said Thursday if funding was given for more Medicaid coverage, other budget items like public education and safety could end up receiving less money.

He went onto say over the last few years more money has been given to free clinics to help with charity cases and more of that could be coming this year.

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