By Charles A. Sumpter, Jr. Chairman, Alexandria Commission on HIV/AIDS (File photo)
To the editor:
The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is “Leadership, commitment, impact.” This is a call to action to work together and reach the people who still lack access to comprehensive treatment, prevention, care and support services. The federal government is committed to ensuring all Americans, no matter their circumstance, have ac- cess to care.
This is evident through the vision highlighted in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which states, “The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”
With the help of tools like the Affordable Care Act, we can achieve that vision. Moreover, the dream of an AIDS-free generation could one day become a reality, perhaps even in my lifetime. But we all must do our parts to achieve this, through leadership, commitment and impact. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly are as committed.
As we recognize World AIDS Day on December 1, there are still more than 400,000 uninsured Virginians, some that could potentially be HIV positive and not in treatment. Across the U.S., state after state has elected to expand Medic- aid over the past couple of years, effectively extending health insurance to millions of poor people who would otherwise remain without coverage, but Virginia Re- publicans have not budged.
They have blocked expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would unlock tens of mil- lions of federal dollars to buttress Virginia’s hospitals and its economy, on the argument that the state might not be able to afford it.
When asked about their reasons for opposing Medic- aid expansion, Republicans have argued that Virginia would be on the hook financially if, at some indefinable date in the future, the federal government reneged on its commitment to cover at least 90 percent of the cost.
According to The Washington Post and other media outlets, that’s a true statement. But it is also true that Virginia receives tens of billions of dollars in federal funding each year, and withdrawal of any portion of it would similarly tear a major hole in our budget. Yet those funds are not rejected by Republicans.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) was right when he said Virginia has a moral responsibility to do better by those who lack coverage. And he made another, equally compelling point — that by refusing to expand Medicaid and take advantage of the federal funds, Republicans have put Virginia at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states, including Kentucky, Maryland and West Virginia, which have opted into the program.
Virginia Republicans are playing politics with the lives of residents in Alexandria and across the state and may be even more emboldened as Donald Trump assumes the presidency in January. However, we cannot let up.
Our seniors, young people and the underinsured are not receiving the care they need and are falling through the cracks, forcing others, like local nonprofits, to pick up the slack. Republican leadership appears to be content with Virginia’s status quo, in which, in one of the nation’s wealthiest states, hundreds of thousands of people are uninsured.
I will never be content with the status quo. Quite frankly, this is a disgrace and an undeniable part of the legacy of Republican leadership in our state legislature.
With World AIDS Day approaching, the Alexandria Commission on HIV/AIDS and our partner organization Safe Space, Inc. will hold a reception to recognize NOVASalud, Inc., another cherished community partner, for their commitment to education and prevention efforts in our region.
No matter the budgetary or political climate, organizations like NOVASalud continue to fight and do their part to support some of our most vulnerable populations in Northern Virginia. It’s time for the state legislature to do the same.