Virginia to reconsider rejection of federal funding for Medicaid expansion

Under the Affordable Care Act, about 25 states have accepted billions in federal funding to expand Medicaid. You still need to be pretty poor to quality – an individual’s income is capped at about $15,000 or less; for a family of four, it’s about $31,000 or less. But it means millions of people will have access to health care who previously didn’t. Among the states who aren’t yet moving forward is Virginia, but a bipartisan commission is studying the issue and will make a recommendation about the future of program to the state legislature. From Richmond, Catherine Komp reports.

(Ambient: crowd chattering)

The only public hearing scheduled by the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission drew a standing-room-only crowd at the state Capitol. Vanessa Hale was 78th in line to speak. A single mother, Hale says it’s been critical for the health of her 10-year-old son.

CLIP 1 HALE 03 secs: “You can’t put a cost on a life of a child.”

Hale’s also an outreach worker for the Blue Ridge Medical Center and says over the years she’s seen a tremendous need for affordable health insurance for her clients.

CLIP 2 HALE 12 secs: “Almost all of them are working poor, they would buy insurance if it existed at an affordable level for them. And unfortunately when they don’t have insurance and can’t afford to go to the doctor, they don’t until they have to to go to the emergency room.”

Representatives of the state’s biggest hospitals and health systems share this concern about the use of emergency department visits in lieu of primary and specialty care. Sheryl Garland represents Virginia Commonwealth University’s health system.

CLIP GARLAND 11 secs:  “Last year over 60% of our ED visits for uninsured patients were avoidable. That is, they were visits that could have been effectively provided in a primary care office.”

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity has been fighting medicaid expansion in the state and their presence was seen by about three dozen activists wearing green t-shirts. But a poll released Wednesday shows that more than half of registered voters support expanding the program. Virginia’s Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission is expected to issue its recommendation by the end of the year. Catherine Komp, Richmond, Virginia.

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