Column: Time to Do the Right Thing

Column: Time to Do the Right Thing

Once again Virginia is in the spotlight on an issue of economic progress and social justice. Marketplace Virginia is a Senate of Virginia plan to provide 400,000 Virginians who do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act to gain health insurance through federal Medicaid expansion. It is before the Virginia Legislature and the House of Delegates is standing in the way, putting Virginia behind the times and on the wrong side of history.

Marketplace Virginia would bring up to $1.8 billion in federal dollars a year towards this insurance coverage goal. We are already paying for this coverage through our federal taxes but if the House of Delegates gets its way, we will be giving up $3.5-5 million a day in benefits, and our rural hospitals, which are losing their federal funding for indigent care, could begin to fail. The Virginia budget will be called on to support these hospitals and prevent closures. Our federal taxes, which were raised this year, will not be coming back to Virginia but be spent in other states and on other priorities. It is estimated that 30,000 jobs could be created over the next five years as the result of this sensible and desperately needed legislation. The argument from the House of Delegates is the federal government may decide in later years that they cannot afford this, and stick Virginia with the bill. Our current budget has $23 billion federal dollars in it. Why are they not worried about the federal government stopping those funds? In short, it is a ridiculous argument designed to distract Virginians from the real reason they are opposed. And that is the fear that anyone in the Republican Party who votes for this will be challenged in a primary and risk losing their seat. Anything perceived as part of the Affordable Care Act will be blindly resisted regardless of how beneficial it will be to our state.

This is yet another moment in Virginia’s troubled history of decision making around "defining moments" in public policy, economic development, and social justice such as this one. Over the past 100 years, our judgment has not been good.

In 1919-1920 when the 19th Amendment for a woman’s right to vote was up for approval in the U.S. Senate, Senators Martin and Swanson from Virginia voted against this fundamental human right. In 1936 the Social Security Act was voted on by the U.S. Senate but sadly Virginias two Senators, Harry Byrd and E.C. Glass, joined ten Senate colleagues who decided not to vote on the legislation. In 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education held that school segregation was unconstitutional and Virginia’s response was "massive resistance." Our public schools in Prince Edward County did not re-open until1964.

I hope the reader is getting the idea here. In 1964 and 1965 our Federal legislators voted on the Civil Right’s Act and Voting Right’s Act. Of the 24 potential votes that could have been cast by Virginia’s Congressional and Senate representatives, all of them voted against the Civil Right’s Act and only one Congressman chose to vote for the Voting Right’s Act. In 1957 in Loving vs. Virginia the U.S. Supreme court held that Virginia’s law against interracial marriage, enshrined in Virginia’s Constitution was in fact unconstitutional, and once again Virginia’s instincts squarely placed us in the wrong. Fast forwarding to 2006, we placed into Virginia’s Constitution the "Marriage Amendment", which forbid same sex marriage or any legal arrangement that approximated such a marriage. Virginia legislators stood in the way of people exercising the right to love and build a life with the person they chose. Although validated by a state-wide referendum, polling indicates a change of heart. Numerous Federal Court rulings indicate that this is likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court in the near future.

Market Place Virginia is a proposal that uses free market health insurance being offered by a bi-partisan majority in the Virginia State Senate. Without health insurance it’s estimated that 250 to 900 Virginians will die each year needlessly for lack of preventive care that Marketplace Virginia would provide. It is a reasonable approach to complete the last tenet of our efforts to reform our health care system. It restricts those not lawfully in the U.S. from participation, it requires those not employed to be looking for work, and asks those that are working (which are the majority) to pay up to 5 percent of their income. It is the responsibility of the Virginia General Assembly to do what is right for Virginia, not just for those who are impacted today, but for those who have yet to be born. It is time for Virginia to do the right thing in this defining moment. We have not always done so in the past.