RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – It’s been four years since Jewel Farley was diagnosed with lupus.
At the time, she was married. She said her illness caused her to not only lose her marriage but her health insurance, too.
Today, she’s struggling to pay for her prescriptions.
She said the last time she stopped by the pharmacy to pick up her medication, one was $129 and the other was $78.
“Now they’re texting me. I have four more prescriptions at the pharmacy and I can’t afford to get them,” said Farley. “So without my medication and Medicaid expansion, this will be me.”
Farley held up a poster in the shape of a tombstone that said, ‘I paid rent instead of doctor visit.’
She was just one of several people who spoke out in favor of Medicaid expansion at a “die in” near the Bell Tower on Capitol Square. Their tombstone-shaped posters displaying messages like, ‘couldn’t afford breast cancer screening’ and ‘chose food over meds.’
Groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Progress Virginia, New Virginia Majority, Indivisible, SEIU, Virginia Civic Engagement Table and Virginia Interfaith Center were all represented at the event.
They lined the sidewalks greeting state senators as they arrived to the Capitol for Monday’s special session on the budget.
Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) was among the crowd.
“You have so many passionate people with very personal stories,” he said.
McPike and his Senate colleagues are in the middle of the Medicaid expansion debate.
Lawmakers adjourned their regular session in March without coming to an agreement on whether to expand the health program which could extend coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians like Farley.
The Republican-controlled House put Medicaid expansion in its original budget proposal. The Republican-controlled Senate did not.
Now, they’re all facing a June 30 deadline to sign off on a balanced budget.
“Hopefully we’ll come to a bipartisan resolution to expand Medicaid,” said McPike.
The House already returned for a special session to pass another version of its budget, which included Medicaid expansion yet again.
On Monday, the Senate sent that budget to the Senate Committee on Finance and heard a presentation on state finances.
Senate Republicans have been stressing that, had the governor and the House constructed budget proposals based on existing revenue streams rather than federal money and a yet-to-be-enacted tax, we wouldn’t be in a hold up.
Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) said it’s not a fiscally responsible way to go about creating a two-year spending plan.
“We want affordable health care, but we think there’s a private sector way to do that,” she said. “We still have some options that are on the table, some viable health care solutions that the Republican Senate has put forward.”
She equated the current budget impasse to a car wreck.
“If my teenager takes the car out and drives it and wrecks it and then brings it back to me and says, ‘oh, I need a ride,’ you’re going to sit there and look at that wrecked car,” she said. “I think that’s kind of how I feel about the governor’s budget and the House’s budget. They’ve pretty much taken the fiscal Commonwealth’s car and wrecked it and brought it to the Senate and said, ‘okay fix that.'”
The Senate is made up of 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats.
Two Republican senators have expressed interest in expanding Medicaid under certain circumstances, but Chase doesn’t believe all the pieces are in place right now for them to flip the majority.
“The budget is very much like a puzzle where all the pieces have to fit, and they have to fit the same way,” she said. “We’re not at a point where all the pieces fit the same way. We’re basically taking one day at a time, one step at a time.”
While Senate leadership has received some heat for moving “too slow” on its budget work, Chase said they are committed to meeting their deadline.
“We will have a budget before June 30,” said Chase. “We want to put everyone’s fears aside.”
If a budget is not passed by June 30, lawmakers will force a state government shutdown.
Before adjourning Monday, the full Senate agreed to meet again May 22.
The Senate Finance Committee will continue its work on the budget Tuesday.