Ken Plum: Medicaid expansion-lite

kenplum2Virginia’s first governor, Patrick Henry, was elected to four one-year terms. Henry’s reputation as a leader was well established before he became governor with his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech made in St. John’s Church in Richmond before the Revolution.

Virginians honored his memory about a decade ago when the renovated Library of Virginia/Supreme Court building was named the Patrick Henry Building and became the office location for the governor and his staff and cabinet secretaries. Henry would have been proud when one of the former reading rooms converted to a public meeting room was the scene last week of a press conference by Governor Terry McAuliffe announcing his plan to expand Medicaid to the extent that he could within the constraints of the law. Henry in his day railed against oppression and taxation without representation.

McAuliffe spoke on behalf of Virginians who are paying billions of dollars in taxation while the legislature is refusing to act on a plan that would bring that money back to the Commonwealth to provide health insurance to the poorest working people. I went to the Governor’s press conference last week as a way to demonstrate my support for the actions he is taking to expand Medicaid. Because of legal constraints, his plan is modest. It extends coverage to about 25,000 persons who do not have health insurance including 20,000 Virginians with serious mental illnesses. The number eligible for health insurance under the federal programs is 400,000, but to reach that number requires an act of the legislature. In the meantime the Governor has instituted a program to aggressively enroll eligible persons in the federal insurance marketplace.

“While the plan that I am announcing today will do a lot of good for a lot of people, it does not solve the larger problem of providing health insurance coverage to low-income Virginians,” the Governor said. “The General Assembly has made it perfectly clear that they unequivocally are the ones that have the power to expand and close the coverage gap. With that power also comes responsibility.”

The General Assembly is scheduled to go back into special session on September 18 to discuss Medicaid expansion. Neither the Republican leadership that controls the House or the Senate’s Republican majority has indicated a willingness to approve any kind of expansion of health benefits. Rather, they continue to follow the direction of the Koch Brothers financed Americans for Prosperity and their Tea Party constituents to refuse to accept anything related to what they call Obamacare.

The insanity of refusing to take five million dollars a day of Virginia taxpayer monies while thousands go without insurance coverage defies a reasonable explanation. As Governor McAuliffe clearly stated, it is up to the legislature. I bet Patrick Henry would have been even more forceful; we have taxation of Virginians to support health insurance programs in other states but not ourselves!

To learn more about the Affordable Care Act, sign up for a webinar at innovatevirginia.org/pages/medicaidwebinarseries.

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