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Without Medicaid Expansion, VA Paying More To Get Less

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Monday, February 16, 2015   

RICHMOND, Va. – By choosing not to expand Medicaid, health policy and budget analysts say the General Assembly has put the state in the position of paying more to get less.

Virginia lawmakers are expected to fund more than $120 million to provide health coverage for about 50,000 additional state residents.

Karen Cameron, director of Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare, says this is a good thing, but she points out that the state could cover 10 times as many by accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid.

What she describes as a Band-Aid approach shows lawmakers are aware of the need.

"They recognize the issues, that they want to do something,” she says. “But because of ideology, we are now using more of our state tax dollars to meet those needs. It doesn't make any sense."

Republicans in the Legislature have blocked expansion, arguing that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare is unworkable.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has argued state taxpayers already are paying into the system and should get their share back.

The ACA gives states the option of covering the working poor – up to one and a third times the poverty line – under Medicaid.

The federal government would cover the full cost for three years, and no less than 90 percent after that.

Jill Hanken, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, says even after paying the state share, expansion would actually save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year by reducing pressure on other state health care programs.

"We will continue to forfeit something in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion a year,” she points out. “And meanwhile the very low-income uninsured are still going without the coverage they need."

Some of the more than $120 million of new funding would go to state-supported clinics that serve many of the same working-poor population.

Hanken says this is good and the clinics play a vital role. But she says they're no substitute.

"Their abilities are limited,” she states. “Even with additional funding, they don't provide the specialty care that people need, they don't provide hospital care. It's not the answer to this enormous problem."




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