Column: Medicaid Reform and Extension

Column: Medicaid Reform and Extension

The right choice for Virginia’s health, hospitals, and taxpayers.

The recent compromise by the Virginia General Assembly to reform and expand the commonwealth’s Medicaid program is the right step toward extending health care coverage to even more of Virginia’s nearly one million uninsured residents. Our elected representatives’ thoughtful debate produced a bill that will protect the health of our state’s neediest residents, keep Virginia taxpayers’ dollars in Virginia, and help hospitals deliver more effective and efficient care.

Medicaid changes in Virginia and nationwide were prompted by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), which will extend coverage in 2014 to nearly 30 million Americans. The ACA requires taxpayers to send billions of dollars to Washington to fund the extension, regardless of whether or not their state participates in the now-optional Medicaid expansion. Those taxes, coupled with the ACA’s reduced Medicare reimbursements to hospitals, would have resulted in a significant financial hit for Virginia’s taxpayers and hospitals.

In choosing to expand Medicaid, the General Assembly compromise requires certain reforms first be enacted to Virginia’s existing Medicaid program. Those reforms include flexibility in how the program is administered, cost-control measures that will ensure its future fiscal stability, and a provision that allows Virginia to halt the expansion if the federal government fails to uphold their financial commitment for the expansion. If approved, expanded Medicaid enrollment could begin in Virginia as early as July 1, 2014.

Inova Health System joined many hospitals and health systems across the commonwealth in supporting Medicaid reform and expansion. If approved, Virginia will receive more than $9 billion dollars in extra federal funds — money that could help nearly 400,000 uninsured residents access primary care coverage in the least costly setting, receive annual physicals, and undergo preventive care. This benefits taxpayers by reducing the long-term costs of care that have historically bloated the Medicaid system and resulted in higher premiums and cost-shifting.

The federal funds will also help hospitals serve even more needy Virginia residents. In 2012, Inova provided $234 million in community benefit to Northern Virginia — $28.1 million of that provided through Inova Alexandria Hospital — with much of that investment going to care for those with little or no insurance. The additional funds will reimburse hospitals for the care we have already been providing to the uninsured in our emergency departments or through our charity care programs and allow us to extend our outreach even further.

The General Assembly’s compromise was just the first step. As part of the larger state budget bill, Virginia’s Medicaid reform and expansion awaits Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature. His approval is an important step in protecting the program for the future, while providing coverage to those who need it today.