Joyce emphasizes health care in office run

Published 12:52 am Saturday, October 12, 2019

Editor’s Note: The Suffolk News-Herald will provide coverage of candidates up for election on Nov. 5 throughout the month of October.

House District 64

The 64th District includes parts of Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Prince George counties, as well as Suffolk. Just under nine percent of the district encompasses a part of Suffolk, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, with 82 percent of the district split between Isle of Wight and Prince George. Republican Emily Brewer is the incumbent, and Democrat Michele Joyce will challenge her in the Nov. 5 election.

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Michelle Joyce had no intentions of getting involved in politics.

But that’s when fate, and her work as a community activist, intervened.

About 10 years ago, Joyce had a neighbor whose husband had recently died as she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She said because he didn’t have insurance through his employer, and because she had a pre-existing condition due to having breast cancer, she couldn’t get health care. Bankruptcy, Joyce said, was her neighbor’s only option.

“She had to make decisions between eating and having her treatment,” Joyce said, “and that shouldn’t happen in our country. There’s no reason for anyone to have to make those kinds of decision.”

Because she had insurance as a computer scientist at Jefferson Lab in Newport News — writing software for the lab’s particle accelerator — “I didn’t really know how flawed the system was.”

Joyce, who lives in Smithfield, said she got involved in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and worked as an activist to support the Affordable Care Act.

In 2014, when the law was fully implemented, Joyce became a healthcare navigator, trained by the state to help others learn about the act and get signed up for health care — some, she said, for the first time.

“I’ve been doing that for the last seven years or so, going through the district, sitting at kitchen tables, meeting them,” Joyce said. “It’s been probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

She said that despite the vitriolic national political discourse, it doesn’t have to be that way.

“I found out that we all need insurance, no matter how we vote,” Joyce said. “We have more in common than our national politics would lead us to believe. … We want our kids to be healthy and successful. We want good schools. We all want that, no matter if we’re Republican or Democrat.”

Joyce said one of her worst experiences as a health care navigator was one of her first. She was trying to help a man who had two jobs get health insurance, but he didn’t make enough money to get it through the health care marketplace.

She wants to work to help lower the cost of pharmaceutical drugs, and she wants to make it more affordable for small businesses and farmers to get insurance.

“When I do talk to folks, prescription drugs are one of the first things they say,” Joyce said.

Beyond health care, Joyce said she is focusing on issues where there is common ground, such as improving broadband access in rural communities and reducing or eliminating food deserts, citing the lack of a grocery store in Surry County. She said she would also be an advocate to bring more investment into rural communities.

“I want to concentrate on things we can work on together,” Joyce said. “Isle of Wight is very conservative, but these are my friends, and my family, and we share values. … We care about the same things.”

Out campaigning, Joyce, who will be participating in the Isle of Wight State Candidate Forum from 5:45 to 9 p.m. Oct. 30 at Windsor Town Center, said she has been able to run a smooth campaign. While people bristle at national politics, she said people visibly relax when she reminds them they are friends, and asks them to forget about Washington, D.C.

“That message has been resonating throughout,” Joyce said, “and that’s going to get me the votes I need.”