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Column: Good News on Medicaid and Redistricting

— While I unfortunately usually alert you about troubling developments, I am happy to share some good news from the last week. Two promising developments— redistricting and the Medicaid expansion — give me optimism about the prospects for the remainder of the legislative session.

On the redistricting front, House Speaker Bill Howell ruled the Senate Republicans’ plan to significantly alter all 40 districts was not germane to the bill that they sneakily attached it to! This is a big win for fairness in the legislative process.

Last week the Senate budget proposal was finalized and it included a provision to accept the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia. This makes good sense whether considered from a preventive care, economic, or moral perspective. Among the 420,000 lower-income Virginians who could receive access to health care are people with disabilities, seniors in nursing homes, pregnant women, and children. The Medicaid expansion would also create about 30,000 good health care jobs.

Currently, Virginia Medicaid covers working adults who earn only up to 30 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), which is just $5,727 for a family of three. Newly created health care exchanges (insurance pools) will be available to those who earn above 100 percent of the FPL without coverage from their jobs. The Medicaid expansion is vital because it would help those who earn too much to currently qualify for Medicaid but earn too little to afford health insurance through the exchanges.

The federal government will pay 100 percent of Medicaid expansion costs for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter. If Virginia doesn’t expand Medicaid, our federal tax dollars will go to other states that do. The expansion will increase access to preventive care and allow illnesses to be treated before they reach critical stages and require costly emergency room visits. Those high costs are currently being passed on to everyone with private insurance, so the expansion would not only benefit newly eligible Medicaid recipients but in fact all Virginia private insurance recipients through smaller premium increases.

Before the Medicaid expansion becomes a reality, it must pass through negotiations in a House-Senate Conference Committee and be acted on favorably by the Governor.

By the time you read this, all 21 of my bills will have been considered in the Senate and in House Committees or Subcommittees. But there’s more to go. We need to adopt an adjusted fiscal year 2013 budget and complete work on 970 legislative items. That may seem like a lot, but we started with a whopping 2,332 pieces of legislation!

I will be holding two town meetings on Saturday, Feb. 16. At 9:30 a.m., I will be with Del. Scott Surovell and Sen. Toddy Puller at the Mount Vernon Governmental Center (2511 Parkers Lane, Alexandria, 22306). Then I will be zipping over to Old Town to join Del. Rob Krupicka at the Charles Houston Recreation Center (905 Wythe Street, Alexandria, 22314) at 11 am. I hope to see you on Saturday!