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Medicaid Expansion Called Boost to VA Public Education

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found children who are eligible for Medicaid health coverage miss fewer school days because of illness or injury. (Pixabay)
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found children who are eligible for Medicaid health coverage miss fewer school days because of illness or injury. (Pixabay)
June 8, 2018

BRISTOL, Va. – Teachers and education advocates say Virginia's move to expand Medicaid is not just important to the 400,000 low-income people now eligible for health care, but it's also a big win for students and public schools.

The switch to draw down federal dollars to help cover the uninsured means there will be more money for the state to divert to education. Tracey Mercier is a teacher for special-needs students at Stonewall Jackson Elementary in Bristol.

She says it's a school with 99 percent poverty, and the expansion of Medicaid means families who were once in the coverage gap now will be able to experience preventative care and students will miss less school.

"So many times I have parents that are working anywhere from two to four jobs, and that's just to make their ends meet, and when they get sick or their children become ill, it can literally wipe them out for months," says Mercier.

A small group of pro-expansion Republicans teamed up with Democrats to drown claims that the change would cost the state billions. The newly signed budget includes a 3 percent salary increase for teachers in the second year of the budget.

There are some strings with the expansion as the deal calls for the state to apply for a federal waiver to allow it to implement work requirements, co-payments and other measures. Mercier says those restrictions, particularly the work requirement, show the lack of understanding of hard-working parents, getting minimum wage trying to make ends meet.

"And to put even more stress on them is almost an insult to their work ethic and their integrity and their desire to be contributing members of society," says Mercier.

Virginia had one of the most strict Medicaid eligibility rules in the country. Childless, non-disabled adults couldn't sign up, while parents could qualify only if their income was below $6,900 dollars for a family of three.

The move to expand Medicaid means Virginia will receive an additional $2 billion a year in federal funding. The federal government picks up at least 90 percent of the cost.

Mercier says for many, public education is their path out of poverty so she views Medicaid expansion as an investment rather than an expense.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - VA