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Don't play politics with Virginians' health

Date published: 3/22/2014

PEOPLE WHO work hard and play by the rules deserve to lead secure, comfortable lives. Unfortunately, for too many Virginians, it's impossible to be truly secure without health insurance: Even a small illness or injury can be devastating. Today, under a plan called Marketplace Virginia, we have a chance to end that kind of suffering--but Republicans in the House of Delegates need to act.

Right now, uninsured Virginians have no good choices when they fall sick. By law, emergency rooms have to admit them--but the ER is no place to treat most illnesses. It would be easier, and significantly less expensive, if folks could go to a doctor when they first got sick, or have access to preventive care to reduce their chances of falling ill in the first place.

As a doctor, I can tell you from firsthand experience that when uninsured Virginians' first stop for care is an emergency room, the services that are provided are incredibly expensive, not just for patients, but for all Virginians. Because the uninsured can't pay for their care, taxpayers, businesses and those with insurance are forced to pick up the tab.

Fortunately, there is a proposal before the General Assembly that would end this devastating cycle. Marketplace Virginia is a "private option" plan that would use federal funds to pay premium support for private insurance plans, enabling up to 400,000 uninsured Virginians to access quality, affordable health care. That includes 4,300 people in Spotsylvania, 3,100 in Stafford and 1,600 in Fredericksburg. And, as a veteran of the U.S. Army, I know it's important to note that there are 30,000 veterans in Virginia now working in the private sector earning minimum wage and living under the poverty line who would be able to purchase affordable health care coverage for themselves and their families through this plan.

These folks are our friends and neighbors. They don't qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, but they can't afford to buy insurance out of pocket. More than 70 percent come from families where at least one person is working, and many more would work if they could.

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