Commentary: Why I Support Medicaid Expansion

Commentary: Why I Support Medicaid Expansion

— As the Virginia General Assembly continues to discuss the expansion of Medicaid, the benefits and consequences of doing so have received a great deal of attention. Debates rage in the media, among businesses and around the kitchen tables of ordinary Virginians throughout the state. At our board meeting of March 25 my colleagues and I reiterated, in a bi-partisan vote, our strong support for Medicaid expansion in Virginia, and here’s why:

First and foremost, Virginians have already paid for most of Medicaid expansion through our federal tax dollars. Through the year 2022, Virginians will pay $29.7 billion in Affordable Care Act related taxes and fees to the federal government. The federal government will cover almost all of the cost for Medicaid expansion with tax dollars collected from the states, including Virginia. If Medicaid is expanded in Virginia, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost through 2016, decreasing incrementally to 90 percent in 2020 and subsequent years. If Medicaid is not expanded in Virginia, we will still pay those same taxes but will see no corresponding benefit to our uninsured population — rather, our tax dollars will be used to pay for uninsured individuals in other states.

Second, the economic benefits of expanding Medicaid, aside from the obvious return of taxpayer dollars to our state, far outweigh the costs. To put it plainly, not addressing affordable health care coverage in Virginia costs Virginia money. Employed Virginians with insurance already subsidize care provided for uninsured Virginians needing urgent treatment when they show up in emergency rooms. These visits result in higher premiums for employed Virginians as well as increased provider costs. Medicaid expansion would increase less expensive preventative care thus reducing more expensive emergency care. This would not only drive down costs but could also improve the overall health of Virginia residents.

A largely unseen cost of our current situation is the existing financial burden on county-funded safety net providers, including non-profit organizations that assist lower income residents. The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board estimates that the percentage of clients receiving substance abuse treatment or mental health services who are covered by Medicaid will rise from 38 percent to 50 percent under the proposed expansion, freeing up County funding for other critical needs.

Lastly, Medicaid expansion provides a tremendous opportunity to do more to help our most vulnerable residents. In Fairfax County alone, up to 30,000 low-income residents would become eligible for Medicaid through expansion, including: individuals earning less than $15,302 per year; families earning less than $31,155 per year; low-income children who lose Medicaid when they turn 19; and, adults with disabilities not eligible for Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance. Under Medicaid expansion, Virginia’s health care delivery system will have the resources needed to provide quality services to those in need.

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and Fairfax County’s local hospitals recognize these facts, and have strongly endorsed Medicaid expansion. Let’s keep Virginia’s tax dollars in Virginia and increase access for uninsured Virginians at the same time.