February 4, 2013
The health care law known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes important advances to provide millions of Americans with high-quality and affordable health care. Right now, Virginia has an important decision to make. The Supreme Court decision upholding the health care law allows states to decide whether or not to expand coverage through the Medicaid program. If Virginia implements this expansion now, it will dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Virginians, garner an extraordinary amount of federal support and ensure a smarter use of Virginia’s healthcare dollars. Delaying Medicaid expansion will hurt Virginians.
Up to 169,000 currently uninsured women would be eligible for coverage through an expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program. When combined with other reforms in the ACA, this coverage expansion would reduce uninsurance among women in Virginia from 17.4 percent to 4.4 percent. Hardworking women and men in Virginia deserve the financial security of having health coverage.
Yet state budgets are strained, and while the overall fiscal outlook is improving, most states are only beginning to feel relief from the recession. That’s why this opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage is so important. The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs related to expanded coverage for the first three years, and at least 90 percent of costs after that. Governors and state legislators across the country—on all sides of the political spectrum—have done the math and come to the same conclusion: it’s too good a deal to turn down.
By providing affordable health insurance, Medicaid plays an important role in improving low-income women’s economic security. At the same time, Medicaid supports millions of jobs that women hold across the country. In Virginia, Medicaid currently supports an estimated 48,313 health sector jobs held by women.
Women covered through Medicaid will receive a comprehensive set of health benefits, such as mammograms, preventive health screenings, and treatment for chronic conditions. In addition, women and their families will enjoy greater economic security—people with Medicaid coverage are less likely to ignore other bills or borrow money to pay medical expenses than people without health coverage. When women have health insurance, the entire family can better manage its health—for example, children can get their asthma medications, and moms can work with their doctors to manage their high blood pressure.
Health coverage for women and families is an effective use of healthcare dollars. On the other hand, Virginians are already paying for individuals without coverage through the higher rates hospitals and clinics must charge people with health coverage to cover costs incurred by those without it. This cost-shifting creates a “hidden tax” that all of us pay, amounting to an additional $1,100 per family, on average, in healthcare premiums. That’s why expanding coverage through Medicaid, with unprecedented federal money, is simply a smarter use of our healthcare dollars. Virginia should seize this opportunity to provide comprehensive insurance coverage that helps people get appropriate treatment before they get too sick, and diverts people from high-cost emergency rooms towards more cost-effective care.
Virginia must make wise investments to grow the economy, while helping hardworking women and their families get health coverage. Expanding health coverage through Medicaid is a sensible approach to improving access to care, a good deal for Virginia, and a smarter use of healthcare funds. Leaving millions of federal dollars on the table—and so many women in Virginia without health coverage—would be foolish.