Working hard on reforms late in the session

Published 11:17 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2013

By Del. S. Chris Jones
Guest Columnist

We are nearing the end of the 2013 General Assembly session and working overtime to reach agreements on several major initiatives including a plan to reduce traffic congestion in the Commonwealth.

The last two weeks at the General Assembly are especially busy as I work with both my fellow delegates and state senators to ensure final passage of key legislative priorities important to Hampton Roads and our Commonwealth.

Medicaid reform needed

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As we near the end of session, the future of Medicaid has emerged as one of the bigger issues facing the General Assembly. Medicaid is an important program that provides quality health care to low-income individuals — often single parents and their children — at little or no cost. For hundreds of thousands of Virginians, it is the only way to receive needed medical care.

House Republicans are committed to a reform-first approach to Medicaid.

Last year, Virginians spent $7 billion on Medicaid. Medicaid expansion could add more than 250,000 new enrollees, further driving up costs if we do not implement reforms. Reforms will allow us to lower costs and dedicate those savings to providing better care for current and new enrollees.

Our House Budget directs the Department of Medical Assistance to seek authority for reforms from the federal government. After those reforms are implemented, DMAS may ask the General Assembly for final authority to expand Medicaid.

Most agree the Medicaid system is in desperate need of reform. Medicaid is the fastest growing program in the state budget, and costs are spiraling out of control. Additionally, federal regulations dictate rigid and inflexible coverage policies that further drive up costs. In 2010, JLARC, the legislature’s watchdog committee, confirmed this fact when it found nearly $90 million of our taxpayer dollars are wasted due to fraud, abuse and error.

If we were able to get a waiver from the federal government, we would have the flexibility to implement much-needed cost saving reforms. These savings could then be used for the purpose of Medicaid expansion.

Some have called for a “dual track” approach — expanding Medicaid and enacting reforms at the same time. Those calling for the “dual-track” approach also claim the expansion would mostly be covered by federal funding. Given the current state of the federal government’s finances, I am skeptical of the federal government’s ability to make good on its promise for funding.

If we expand Medicaid without enacting cost-saving reforms, Virginia taxpayers could be stuck with an ineffective, expensive and out-of-control program and without the authority or resources to fix it. That is why reforms must come first.

Simply put, Medicaid is too important a program, and there is too much at stake not to make needed reforms as we consider expansion. I want to reform Medicaid, because I know hundreds of thousands of people rely on it. The more efficiently and effectively it runs, the stronger our health care safety net will be.

Reform-first is the right approach to Medicaid expansion in the Commonwealth. Reforming Medicaid is not only the responsible thing to do, but it provides a pathway to Medicaid expansion that all Virginians can agree on.

Moving forward on roads

On the important topic of transportation, I can report that we have made progress toward an agreement to help reduce the traffic congestion in our Commonwealth. The state Senate has passed its version of a transportation plan, which allowed for the House of Delegates to put the bill into a conference committee.

Serving as a conference negotiator committee member, I have been working with the other conferees to come up with a transportation plan that members of both chambers can agree upon.

I will be sure to update you on the details of the final transportation plan as soon as an agreement has been reached and approved by the House and the Senate.

Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

Delegate S. Chris Jones represents the 76th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He is a resident of Suffolk and can be contacted through his website at