In April of this year, I tuned in to watch a livestream of the General Assembly reconvene session, to see my delegate, Marcus Simon, make a pitch for Medicaid expansion. He brought with him a handful of constituents whose lives were impacted by Virginia’s decision to reject the federal money. My jaw dropped when, with the last words of their tragic stories still hanging in the air, the legislators moved on quickly to the next order of business–Delegate Albo announcing his retirement. He cracked jokes, and talked for what seemed like forever, while those people who’d so bravely come to have their health problems and financial distress given as testimony in favor of Medicaid expansion, looked on. Not only did the Republicans vote once again against the expansion, they did it so callously that I was appalled.
It’s a memory that has haunted me every time I’ve canvassed a home where the voter has faced some similar financial crisis resulting from health problems. It happens at least once every time I canvass. This weekend with Kimberly Anne Tucker, it happened at literally every single door.
The first door we knocked at was opened by an elderly woman. Kim asked her (kind of her signature line) “What keeps you up at night?” The woman said “My daughter, actually. I’m taking care of her, because she has brain cancer.” It turned out that the daughter had just started a new job when one day she wasn’t feeling right, and had strange tingles in her leg. She went to the hospital, and they found a tumor. But since she’d just started that job, she didn’t have insurance yet. She fell into that crack between insurance and Medicaid. Kim is a cancer survivor too–she was diagnosed with stage IV terminal colon cancer, and she wasn’t supposed to survive. But she did, and she’s determined to win this race to fight for guaranteed health care coverage–because when you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or diabetes, the last thing you should have to worry about is whether the doctor will see you, or how you’ll pay.
Honestly, it’s really hard to ask for votes when both you and the voter are sobbing your eyes out. Kim mostly told the woman to take care of herself, and she took her phone number so that she could call her later and check in on how her daughter was doing.
We talked to a man, who had some rare spinal infection that nearly killed him. The medicines he had to take to be able to stand and walk were so strong that he garbled his words throughout the conversation. But one thing we understood–his wife worked and he was unable to; and that meant that they made too much to qualify for Medicaid, and not enough to be able to afford insurance. Again, they fell into the crack between insurance and Medicaid, a crack that should not exist, that only exists because Republicans want Obamacare to fail and are willing to let people suffer to make that happen.
We talked to an 85-year old woman whose husband went into the Coast Guard when he was 17 years old, joined the Army to fight in the Korean War, and came home to spend the rest of his life teaching in a public school. They scrimped and saved to put their kids through college. She said “We made do without, because we felt that education was important.” But after retirement, when her husband suffered first cancer and then heart disease, and had bypass surgery, they struggled to pay the bills and to pay for an in-home nurse. Medicare wouldn’t pay for the in-home nurse, and she didn’t want him to be in a nursing home. He had died a month or so before, and I’m not sure what she was going to do with the bills.
And on and on. At every door, Kim told her story, told people that she wanted to fight for them, to make sure they didn’t have to worry about crippling medical bills. But here’s the kicker–almost every one of these voters was almost surely a Republican. Almost every one of them voted in 2015 for a delegate who voted against the very Medicaid expansion that they now so desperately needed. The subject of party affiliation didn’t come up (and we mostly had no data on them, so we couldn’t be sure), but they were clearly Republicans.
It’s sad and frustrating at the same time. But we left most of those doors with people supporting Kim. One man told us “Why not try something new for a change?” Why not, indeed.