In 2001, over 900,000 Virginians were living below the poverty line with an annual household income for a family of four under $23,050. Over 416,000 of these Virginians were living in deep poverty with a family of four having an annual household income under $11,525. Of the total, 270,000 were children, the highest number of children living in poverty in Virginia since 1998.
With such a high rate of poverty in the state there is little surprise in knowing that there are one million Virginians without insurance. While attacking the issue of poverty is a complex one, the specific need to grant greater access to health insurance has a solution that I am working to have the General Assembly adopt. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, 400,000 of Virginia’s uninsured people could become eligible to qualify for Medicaid. The governor has not asked the General Assembly to approve Virginia’s entry into the federal program, but I have joined with other members of the General Assembly to pass legislation to bring Virginia into the program and to expand Medicaid.
Under the existing Medicaid program, Virginia and the federal government jointly fund medical coverage for specific groups of low-income people, including low-income children, pregnant women, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and individuals with an income less than 30 percent of poverty or about $10,000 per year. Under an expanded program, income eligibility for a family of four would increase to $32,000 per year. What makes expansion of the Medicaid program attractive under the Affordable Care Act is that the federal government would provide 100 percent funding for the expansion for three years and 90 percent funding after that. Between 2014 and 2019 estimates are that the state would likely spend approximately $500 million while the federal government would spend about $9.6 billion. As the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis concluded, approximately 95.1 percent of the Medicaid expansion in Virginia would be paid for by the federal government with billions in federal funding being added to the state economy.
Virginia has traditionally had one of the stingiest Medicaid programs in the country. While the commonwealth’s per capita income is sixth highest among the states, its rank of spending on Medicaid participants is 24th. Virginia’s rate of Medicaid spending per capita is 48th lowest among the states. An important step to relieving poverty in the state is getting people healthy. Too many people suffer from untreated diseases, and children are deprived of reaching their full potential. All the social service and faith groups of which I am aware have endorsed Virginia expanding its Medicaid program. I have expressed my support for the program expansion to Governor McDonnell, and I hope that you might consider doing so as well. Send your message to him at Contact Governor McDonnell, www.governor.virginia.gov/aboutthegovernor/contactgovernor.cfm. The federal underwriting of this important program for Virginia citizens makes it a deal too good to pass up.