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Ken Plum: Obamacare in Virginia

President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Obamacare, into law on March 23, 2010. On the same day Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed the first lawsuit in the nation to challenge the provision in ACA that most individuals be mandated to have health insurance. Eastern District Federal Judge Henry Hudson ruled in December 2010 the individual mandate was unconstitutional because it exceeded congressional powers. The case is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond and is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the same time Virginia’s Attorney General is fighting ACA in court, Virginia’s Governor has set about implementing the new law in the Commonwealth. In a well-documented paper in The Virginia News Letter from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, Jill Hanken who is staff attorney at the Virginia Poverty Law Center argues very persuasively as the title of her article implies that “The Affordable Care Act Holds Great Promise for Virginia.” As pointed out in the article, a commission appointed by Governor McDonnell to evaluate ways to improve the state’s system of health care and to recommend ways to comply with ACA stated in its December 2010 report very frankly that “surprising to some and embarrassing to all, Virginia’s overall health system performance is actually quite mediocre. To be sure, there are excellent hospitals, physicians, health centers, and innovative health plans that are working hard to effectuate local and statewide improvement. Still, it is hard to be proud of a system in which nearly one million Virginians – and 150,000 children – lack health insurance and timely access to quality care that only it can ensure.”

Already under Obamacare, Virginians with preexisting conditions can get affordable care. Insurance companies cannot deny coverage to children with preexisting conditions affecting some 123,000 Virginia children, and in 2014 this provision will extend to adults. Young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Lifetime limits on new health insurance policies are prohibited. Small businesses are able to get tax credits to provide health insurance to their employees. The Commonwealth is receiving more than $50 million in federal funds to implement the new law. Billions more will come to Virginia to expand coverage under Medicaid.

Obamacare through ACA has set off some schizophrenic behavior in Virginia. On the one hand Attorney General Cuccinelli is gaining notoriety in taking on the law in court and seeking to stop it. At the same time the state is taking positive steps to implement the law and extending health insurance and medical care to thousands of Virginians who have been without them. Obamacare truly holds great promise for Virginians.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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