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Medicaid Expansion A Step In The Right Direction For Some Virginia Residents

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Brian Henriquez's is a blur as he performs step moves at the Herndon Community Center.
Michael Pope
Brian Henriquez's is a blur as he performs step moves at the Herndon Community Center.

When 20-year-old Brian Henriquez was a student at Herndon High School, he was part of a championship step team. The group performed a rhythmic dance style that involved clapping and stomping. He's since given it up because he has asthma, and perhaps more importantly, no health insurance.

"My lungs require a lot more oxygen, and I can't do that because of my asthma," Henriquez. "It scares me because if I were to ever do anything active and I were to pass out, I would have to go to the hospital and deal with all that."

Noah Feldman is a Northern Virginia organizer with Virginia New Majority. He says Brian's case is just one example of the 400,000 people who would be covered by expansion of Medicaid in Virginia as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

"When Brian turned 18, he automatically lost Medicaid because in Virginia if you are a childless adult, you do not qualify," Feldman says. "And that's not true of all states."

In Virginia, Republican governor Bob McDonnell is against expanding Medicaid. But in an exchange for votes from Senate Democrats for his transportation package, he included the expansion as part of the budget next year — under certain conditions, such as the state receiving a series of waivers for cost-containment programs, for example. Henriquez's mother Dalia Mercado says she's concerned for her son.

"The medicine is expensive," she says. "You go visit a doctor, it's expensive too. It's very hard."

For now, Henriquez will live without medicine. and without step, at least for the most part.

"I don't think anyone should have to live like I do, fearing getting sick every day," Henriquez says.

This summer, the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission is expected to issue a determination on whether Virginia has achieved all the necessary reforms. That could mean that Henriquez could get an inhaler as early as next summer.

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