Medicaid expansion debate rages on social media

By Dana Carlson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Social media acts as the latest mouthpiece to the General Assembly stalemate, which has left the state budget in limbo and 400,000 Virginians wondering if Medicaid expansion will grant them access to health care.

With two budget bills still in play more than a month after the General Assembly adjourned, Facebook and Twitter are serving as platforms for Democrats and Republicans to criticize the Medicaid standoff and reach out to the electorate for support.

“If Twitter is any guide, both sides are milking social media for all they can,” tweeted Jeff Schapiro, a Richmond Times-Dispatch political columnist.

Looking for someone to blame for the budget impasse, politicians are turning to social media to blame each other and garner public support.

“We could have had our work done on time, if not for the governor’s new Washington-style tactics in doing business in Richmond,” Delegate Steve Landes, R-Verona, vice-chairman of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, stated on Facebook.

Meanwhile, House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, accused Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Twitter of holding Virginia’s budget “hostage.”

“Over 14,000 Virginians have signed the petition calling for a clean budget. Add your name,” Howell tweeted when the governor refused to separate Medicaid expansion from the state budget.

However, Senate Democrats blame the budget impasse on House Republicans, who rejected the Marketplace Virginia proposal that was meant to be a bipartisan compromise created by the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission.

“The refusal of the House Republicans to accept federal money to insure 400,000 working Virginians has brought everything to a halt,” Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, stated on Facebook. “We are giving up 5 million dollars a day in funds that we Virginians have paid in fees and taxes intended to provide healthcare coverage in Virginia.”

The trending hashtag #IAmTheCoverageGap is being used by Democrats and Medicaid expansion supporters to promote the digital story library, The site gives a face to the healthcare crisis by allowing Virginians to share personal healthcare struggles online.

Among these stories is that of Lori Piper, a former business executive who lost her health, career and income to an auto-immune disease.

“After losing my job I lost my health insurance, and I wasn’t able to seek treatment to maintain my condition or improve it,” Piper said. “I was so sick, I literally couldn’t hold a job.”

As a single adult with no income, Piper currently does not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford the treatment she needs to maintain her health.

Meanwhile, a new Christopher Newport University poll stated that the majority of Virginians now oppose Medicaid expansion and fear a government shutdown. The poll is serving as new ammunition in the House GOP arsenal to pressure Democrats into removing Medicaid from the budget.

The House GOP Twitter feed cited the poll and stated, “71 percent of Virginians want a compromise to avoid a government shutdown — that means passing a clean budget.”

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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