Expand Medicaid in Virginia now

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, January 23, 2013

By Bill Kallio
Guest Columnist

Virginia has the chance to provide health coverage to 400,000 hardworking Virginians and their families, and it just makes good sense to do it.

As we face the realities of the recession, any of us — or our friends or families — could fall on hard luck, lose a job, or lose our insurance and not be able to afford health care coverage. We need a safety net to protect the health of our citizens.

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Expanding Medicaid will enable adults making just $15,000 a year to get the health care they need. Without the expansion, uninsured adults will continue to go without care or receive charity care in hospital emergency rooms. And since taxpayers pay for charity care, expanding Medicaid can save taxpayers money.

AARP believes everyone should have access to affordable health care. That includes millions of 50- to 64-year-olds across the nation who have lost their jobs, are struggling to find new ones and can’t get affordable health care.

This means more than 62,000 people age 50 to 64 could qualify for Medicaid in Virginia. This would be especially helpful to older workers who have lost their jobs and can’t afford health insurance while they search for a new one.

Since mid-2010, the average duration of unemployment for experienced workers is more than one year — significantly longer than less experienced workers. The risk of being uninsured and unemployed at the same time could be reduced if states would make health care coverage available to nearly three million 50- to 64-year-olds, and nearly 17 million Americans in total, by expanding Medicaid this year.

This issue is particularly important to individuals who are over age 50 and not yet eligible for Medicare. These middle-aged adults are more likely to face the onset of health conditions that, if left untreated, could inevitably increase their need for and use of health and long-term care.

Expanding Medicaid will provide coverage for the individuals who’ve paid in all their lives but are now struggling to make ends meet. In addition, it will give people without insurance access to preventive care that can save lives, and ease dangerous and expensive emergency room overcrowding that costs all of us.

The General Assembly has a chance to do the right thing and provide health care coverage to nearly 400,000 uninsured residents. There will be no cost to the state for the first three years, and the state will never pay more than 10 percent of the cost in the future.

Most important, it will keep workers out of the emergency room. Expanding Medicaid can provide better care, enabling hardworking, low-income wage earners to catch medical conditions early, when treatment can be much cheaper and more effective. Studies show that expanding Medicaid results in fewer unnecessary deaths, because it enables low-income people to get preventive care and lifesaving drugs.

In many cases, those who work at low-wage jobs are not eligible for employer-paid health insurance. In addition, many of these workers have been laid off from their jobs in the recession. Since all workers contribute to the cost of Medicaid throughout their working lives, providing them with Medicaid when they need help is just simple fairness.

If Virginia fails to exercise the Medicaid expansion option as it currently exists, thousands of residents will not have access to affordable coverage and the state will be creating a coverage gap for the poorest individuals and families under 100 percent of poverty who will have no access to health care subsidies.

AARP urges the Virginia General Assembly to participate in Medicaid expansion, because it would be an enormous health and economic benefit. For those who will be newly eligible in 2014, Virginia will be able to take advantage of the 100-percent federal match rate.

Medicaid expansion makes sense for the health of Virginia’s residents and for the state budget. It is the right thing to do.

Bill Kallio is the Virginia state director for AARP. Contact AARP Virginia at (866) 542-8164 or aarpva@aarp.org.