CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the most important issues before the state of West Virginia is the question of Medicaid expansion, which could cover as many as 120,000 West Virginians with much needed medical coverage.
The religious community has not been silent on this topic. United Methodist Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Bransfield, Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Ralph Dunkin, Episcopal Bishop Mike Klusmeyer, Partnership of African American Churches Executive Director Reverend James Patterson, Church of the Brethren District Executive Reverend David Shumate, the West Virginia Council of Churches, and other clergy and laity have advocated for Medicaid expansion.
From a religious perspective, there are many good reasons. There is the example of Jesus, who healed the sick. There are the words of Jesus, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," (Matthew 22:40). There is the long tradition of providing medical care throughout the Church's history. But I am particularly struck by the question found in Matthew 25:39: "When did we see you sick?"
When did we see you sick? Truly, in West Virginia, one does not have to go very far to hear the answer. In our families, in our congregations, in our barber and beauty shops, among our restaurant servers, and among the working poor, time and time again, one hears the stories of those struggling to obtain medical care.
Without medical insurance, families are delaying needed medical treatment, assuming debt beyond their means, and sometimes dying. Families U.S.A. estimates that 223 people died in West Virginia in 2010 from lack of health insurance. When we hear the words, "When did we see you sick?" we know that often it can mean our neighbors, our friends, our families and those closest to us.
The current level of Medicaid eligibility, up to 31 percent of the federal poverty level (income of no more than $6,000 a year for a family of three) is far too low and neglects the vast majority of the working poor in our state. Medicaid expansion would help working families up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($26,951 for a family of three) and would go a long way to helping families in West Virginia take preventive measures to ward off more costly treatment, receive medical care should the need arise, and provide families with more economic security.
Medicaid expansion promotes another value found in the Church, and at one time in our country -- the common good. Medicaid expansion will mean healthier families, economic stability in those families, and viable hospitals and medical institutions. Medicaid expansion has been estimated to lead to an additional 6,200 jobs in West Virginia.
"When did we see you sick?" Jesus answers the question by saying that "as you did it to one of the least of these of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40). For the sake of those most in need in our state, it's time to support Medicaid expansion.Allen is executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches.