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Medicaid expansion is right for Virginia

State legislators should push McAuliffe proposal forward

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) on March 27 proposed an amendment to the state’s budget which would expand Medicaid coverage across Virginia. The proposal follows Congress’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, though McAuliffe has pushed for the Medicaid expansion in the past. Expanding Medicaid would bring health care to a large number of Virginians who currently do not have it, and would make Virginia a model for effectively utilizing federal health care funds.

McAuliffe’s proposed amendment would provide health care to approximately 400,000 additional low-income Virginians. While Virginia’s Medicaid program currently has eligibility requirements based on factors such as age and disability, under expanded Medicaid residents could qualify based solely on income. The expansion of Medicaid, which would be funded with federal dollars, can provide essential health care coverage to thousands of Virginians without placing additional financial strain on the Commonwealth. A wide variety of residents would become eligible for Medicaid including those whose employers do not provide insurance or who simply cannot afford health insurance. Currently, Virginians who make minimum wage or are unemployed may be unable to access even basic medical services, threatening their health and financial stability.

Republican state legislators have been quick to oppose Medicaid expansion. Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell (R-Stafford) called the amendment an improper use of tax dollars, classifying health care as less important than “education, transportation or public safety.” Calling for increased spending on public safety while opposing a Medicaid expansion is an inconsistent position. Access to health care regardless of income level is essential to the public’s overall well-being. If legislators oppose the amendment and refuse federal health care funds, they will do a disservice to Virginians.

Though Speaker of the House Paul Ryan last month called the ACA “the law of the land … For the foreseeable future,” it may still face further attempts at repeal. By using federal dollars to fund the Medicaid expansion, Virginia would serve as a strong example of the benefits of the ACA. With the potential to create new health care jobs and foster a healthier, more productive workforce, successful Medicaid expansion in Virginia could help prevent the repeal of the ACA in the future.

Expanding Medicaid would be a meaningful effort to improve quality of life for low-income Virginians. In a competitive insurance market with expensive and restrictive plans, people earning less than $16,000 a year end up uninsured and in jeopardy. With the Affordable Care Act temporarily safe, Virginia lawmakers should seize the opportunity to expand health care access across the state and demonstrate the benefits of the ACA.