It was concerning that the Virginia General Assembly adjourned its 2014 session without passing the budget, but even more disturbing is the reason for the deadlock — the expansion of Medicaid.

I applaud the work that was done on the issue of mental health reform for it was long overdue. But closing the gap in health coverage for our most vulnerable citizens should be every bit as important.

Now our representatives have been called back into special session to approve the budget and decide what Virginia will do to meet the health care needs of hundreds of thousands of Virginians left without coverage.

Every day those of us on the front lines of health care watch as those we are providing care for are either dying before their time or do not have any quality of life. Expansion of Medicaid or a Marketplace system like the Virginia Senate is recommending would allow patients access to preventive care, specialty care, diagnostic testing and hospital care. It is hard to watch, day after day, as our patients have to make difficult decisions, because lawmakers refuse to work together to work out a plan. The right to quality, low-cost health care should never be politicized or used as a bargaining chip. These are the working poor who work one or two jobs to support their families, and they should not have to choose between food and rent or medications.

There is so much wrong information put out to scare people away from supporting Medicaid expansion.

For example, some say that Medicaid fraud is costing the commonwealth thousands of dollars each year. While I do not condone Medicaid fraud on any level, the Commonwealth of Virginia has the lowest fraud rate in the country and has the awards to prove it. Others say we need Medicaid reform before we can expand it. The state has already put all of the Medicaid reforms required by last year’s budget in place. Besides, there is no proposal at this time to expand Medicaid.

Instead, the Senate is offering a plan that provides private health insurance to those who would be eligible under a Medicaid expansion. What the Senate is proposing is very different from Medicaid expansion, and it is very important that this distinction be understood. The coverage would be provided by private health insurance plans that would be responsible for everything. They would recruit and credential the providers, administer the health insurance and be responsible for ensuring quality care and positive patient outcomes.

And the main reason given for not expanding Medicaid is the fear that after the three years are up the federal government would no longer be able to afford to support it. This is really a non-issue, because the Senate plan has a "circuit breaker" clause that allows the state to terminate coverage if federal money is not available at the levels promised by the federal government. In addition, the health reform law contains a variety of new taxes, which we are all already paying, specifically to finance this new coverage. This includes the Medicaid expansion or variations of it like the Senate is proposing. The Commonwealth of Virginia is now losing $5 million every day that it doesn’t enact health insurance coverage for the uninsured.

The Affordable Care Act provides 100 percent federal funding to support the Medicaid expansion in 2014, 2015, and 2016. After that, the federal contribution is gradually reduced to no less than 90 percent of expansion costs. This federal funding for Medicaid expansion could support as many as 30,000 jobs in the health industry and throughout Virginia’s economy. If we do not expand Medicaid, the commonwealth will lose more than $2 billion in federal funding each year. Without expansion, Virginia will also lose $135 million each year in state general funds savings from state-funded health programs.

Virginians are already paying for Medicaid expansion through their federal taxes. We should not pay for other states to expand Medicaid, while leaving hundreds of thousands of Virginians uninsured. We should bring our federal tax dollars back to the commonwealth to help Virginians.

The growth of our state economy depends on a healthy workforce. Providing coverage will help keep Virginia families secure, our businesses strong, our job market dynamic and our economy growing. Please contact your representative in the General Assembly and tell them we need a bi-partisan plan now.




(Posted: March 28, 2014 at / Story by: Kay Crane)