Perhaps no issue deserves our respect and attention more than the one on whether to expand Medicaid in the commonwealth. There are strong ideas on both sides of an issue that impacts virtually everyone in Virginia.
Over the last month, we have run half a dozen letters and columns expressing a range of views on the issue. Much of the debate has centered on Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who won election on a promise to expand Medicaid coverage to as many as 400,000 uninsured Virginians.
While Virginia is one of the nation’s wealthiest states, it ranks among the lowest — 48th — in per capita spending for Medicaid. The sad fact is that almost one in eight Virginians lack health insurance. Partisan opposition to expanding Medicaid now paints the uninsured into a corner. It is time for Virginia to find its way out.
Although Republicans who control the Virginia House of Delegates make a fair argument that the Affordable Health Care Act has had its share of problems and could leave the state with an expensive bill, support for expanding Medicaid now comes from almost every other corner. The state’s Chamber of Commerce supports a form of expansion, as do our local hospitals and many throughout the state. In addition to providing health care for the state’s uninsured, the very thought that Virginia would refuse to accept billions of dollars in federal Medicaid funds — dollars we send to Washington — seems unfathomable.
“Without a serious effort to close the coverage gap, Virginians will send nearly $30 billion in taxes, fees and healthcare provider cuts on a one-way trip across the Potomac River to Washington, D.C.,” Knox Singleton, the CEO of Inova Health System noted on these pages in February. “Adding insult to injury, more than a third of those taxes, fees and cuts will come from businesses, taxpayers and hospitals in Northern Virginia. A Virginia solution to the coverage gap will bring those funds back to the commonwealth where they belong.”
For all the partisan maneuvering around Medicaid, one political voice has risen above the fray to offer a common sense solution. It belongs to Del. Tom Rust (R-Dist. 86), who provides a thorough analysis of the Medicaid issue on his website (tomrust.org/2014/02/28/the-rust-report-february-28-2014/#sthash.MkgIDhUa.dpuf). Breaking ranks with every other Republican in the House, Rust believes Virginia’s lawmakers should approve Medicaid expansion with a healthcare marketplace that responds to the state’s neediest residents.
“Is it perfect?” Del. Rust asks. “No, but we simply cannot afford to continue to give the federal government any more of our money and get nothing in return.”
We concur. Virginia would be foolish to give back federal money. The only issue should be making the system work for the people in the state who need it most.