WISE COUNTY, Va. - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe says thousands flocking to a free health care clinic in Wise County illustrate the need for Medicaid expansion in the state. McAuliffe finished up a trip to southwest Virginia with a visit to the clinic. The governor says now is the crucial time for expansion of the federal health care program for the poor.
"I'm just so happy we have these angels down here in Wise County who come in from all over to help folks," McAuliffe said.
A tour for the governor of the services thousands of residents are taking advantage of free of cost at the Appalachian Care Innovative Training Mission. Some, like Kristina Turner from Wise, have been relying on these types of services from the Health Wagon for nearly 20 years.
"Without this, it would be a bunch of money. I'd be bankrupt. I'd probably lose my home and everything else I had if I didn't have this," Turner said.
The Army is partnering with the Health Wagon to hold the event for the community. It's part of annual training for reserve units. Major Nathan Devoe said, "The beauty of the Innovative Readiness Training Program is that it gives us an opportunity to come off of our military installations out of our gates and work in the communities and service in the communities that we live in and we're a part of."
Dr. Joe Smiddy calls the situation in southwest Virginia a health crisis.
"Here in southwest Virginia, we are a belt of lung disease, COPD, emphysema, coal workers' pneumoconiosis. We're a belt of diabetes and hypertension. Since the economy dipped in 2008, our patient population that has no health care or uninsured health care has grown," Pulmonologist Dr. Joe Smiddy said.
Dr. Smiddy had to send two patients at the event directly to the hospital because of major medical conditions.
"One of them had a very serious blood disorder and one had a thoracic aneurysm," Smiddy said.
Many of the patients Smiddy and the Army medical professionals have seen this week are uninsured or underinsured. McAuliffe believes it is a responsibility of the state to keep citizens healthy.
McAuliffe says the state loses $6.6 million a day in health care funding, as a resulting of not expanding Medicaid, as he has urged. "What I very much worry about is Virginia, which is a non-expansion state. Those expansion states look like they're going to get taken care of for the future, and we're going to get left out."
His plan to expand it has failed over and over in the General Assembly. Delegate Todd Pillion, among those who opposed it, says health care costs are the largest and fastest growing line items in the state budget.
We reached out to legislators who opposed the expansion. Delegate Todd Pillion sent us a statement. It reads,"The General Assembly has repeatedly rejected the Governor's attempts to expand Medicaid. All you have to do is turn on the news and see how Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight."
Pillion went on to say, "The existing Medicaid system is the largest and fastest growing part of Virginia's operating budget, an increasing cost we simply cannot sustain. Instead of expanding government-run healthcare, The House of Delegates has invested over $200 million in the healthcare safety net over the last three years. This includes significant funding for mental health coverage and funding for free clinics and community health clinics."
The Appalachian Care event wraps up on Thursday, but it will be followed by a Remote Area Medical event coming in July.
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