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Community, faith leaders issue report on expanding healthcare in Virginia

healthcareCommunity and religious leaders today released an updated report on healthcare access and called upon the Virginia General Assembly to take advantage of federal dollars for expanding healthcare coverage.

The updated report, prepared by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, lays out a statistical case for accepting the federal money available to expand healthcare in Virginia. That money can be used to help hundreds of thousands of low-income Virginians get the life-saving healthcare they need.

Virginia Organizing and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy joined in organizing the events around the state that released the updated report, “How Medicaid Works: A Chartbook for Understanding Virginia’s Medicaid Insurance and the Opportunity to Improve It.”

“We are standing in front of the General Assembly to call upon its leaders to find a Virginia way for tapping federal dollars to expand life-saving healthcare,” said Virginia Interfaith Center Executive Director Kim Bobo at the Richmond news conference releasing the report.

“We urge the General Assembly in 2018 to take action to accept the federal dollars available to help 300,000 in Virginia get the health insurance they need to be healthy and productive citizens,” said Jill Hanken, director of the Center for Healthy Communities for the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “By doing so they will also help the general economy, as Virginia would save $130 million over the next biennium. Virginia has been waiting for over four years to get access to health insurance, and with the ongoing opioid crisis the need keeps growing. Governor-elect (Ralph) Northam has promised a bipartisan solution to this issue.”

Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income people begun in 1965, mainly covers children, pregnant women, parents, seniors over age 65 and people with disabilities. In Virginia, nearly 1 million people have health coverage through Medicaid. That’s one in 10 Virginia residents, but three in 10 who live under the poverty level, and two out of three children.

Medicaid is jointly funded through federal and state dollars and administered by the state. Every dollar Virginia spends in Medicaid is matched by a dollar in federal funds. States set eligibility levels based on personal income, and Virginia already has very restrictive Medicaid eligibility rules, which especially impacts the working poor. Virginia also ranks a lowly 46th in the nation in terms of state investment in Medicaid.

The booklet shows that 240,000 uninsured Virginia residents fall in the coverage gap. They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and earn too little to receive subsidies on the marketplace.

“I grew up on Southside Richmond and I’ve depended on Medicaid for most of my life, said Will Ares, one of the many who would benefit if Virginia tapped federal dollars to expand life-saving healthcare access. “But now I fall in the coverage gap and no longer have healthcare insurance. There are more than 240,000 over Virginians struggling with the same predicament as I have.”

In response to a question about what has changed as 2017 draws to a close, Bobo said “First of all, the ACA is still the law of the land despite several efforts to repeal it this year. There is new energy in the General Assembly and 15 new delegates in the House who ran on this issue. Our governor-elect is a physician, deeply committed to expanding healthcare access and has a history of working well with many in the General Assembly. Fiscal conservatives are interested in drawing down these federal dollars to strengthen Virginia’s budget.”

The majority of people who would be newly eligible for coverage have jobs and are working in the most important sectors of our economy, including retail, food services, hospitality, healthcare, construction and education. Closing the coverage gap on July 1, 2018, would bring in an average of $1.7 billion in new federal funding per year to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Those new resources would help support job growth and generate revenue for the state.

The Chartbook is available on The Commonwealth Institute’s Website.