McAuliffe urges Medicaid expansion

Published 9:57 pm Monday, March 10, 2014

At Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth on Monday, Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson, seated far left beside Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth Wright, listens to Gov. Terry McAuliffe — seated far right — argue to expand Medicaid in Virginia.

At Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth on Monday, Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson, seated far left beside Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth Wright, listens to Gov. Terry McAuliffe — seated far right — argue to expand Medicaid in Virginia.

Visiting Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth on Monday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged House Republicans to agree to expand Medicaid, after the General Assembly adjourned on the weekend without a deal to do so.

It was the latest in a series of hospital visits by McAuliffe to illustrate his argument that Virginia would get “all stick and no carrot” from Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act without signing on for federal funds to extend coverage to 400,000 uninsured.

Medical professionals whom McAuliffe met in Portsmouth were firmly in his corner — one particularly.

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“Without passing this bill, hospitals such as Maryview will no longer exist,” declared Mark Kerner, chair of the Bon Secours Maryview Foundation, whose activities include providing care for the uninsured.

“Everybody hear that?” McAuliffe edged in.

Later, Kerner elaborated that the foundation had “incredible need and limited resources,” adding, “Every time they cut back on Medicaid, they keep assuming there’s this hole in the sky and the money falls through.”

In 2013, 12.5 percent of Maryview’s patients received Medicaid, and more than four in 10 were Medicare recipients, Bon Secours Hampton Roads CEO Michael Kerner said.

“(But) we are not just expecting to be reimbursed — we are also working to reduce costs,” Michael Kerner added.

The Democrat-controlled Senate’s budget, Michael Kerner said, would restore $83.9 million to Bon Secours Virginia over fiscal 2015 and 2016. On the other hand, the Republican plan in the House would restore $6.1 million.

In fiscal 2013, Michael Kerner said, Bon Secours Hampton Roads provided $72.35 million in uncompensated care and other benefits.

McAuliffe called the numbers “very powerful.” He also added to them. Without expanding Medicaid, the governor said, the commonwealth would forfeit $26 billion through 2022 — money that would go to the 27-and-counting states that have signed on.

“They are still going to go to the doctor, they are still going to go to the emergency room,” he said of citizens in the coverage gap. “Somebody’s going to pay for that — it’s going to be business.”

But the Senate inserted the Medicaid issue into the budget, noted Chris Jones, the House Republican from Suffolk. Medicaid needs to be handled separately from the regular budget, he said.

“My position hasn’t changed: we have to reform the existing Medicaid program as we know it,” Jones said. “In my opinion, it’s premature to expand Medicaid under Obamacare until those reforms are in fact in place.”

Suffolk’s Linda T. Johnson — among several Hampton Roads mayors who met the governor at Maryview — said she had “grave concerns on what happens if we don’t accept this money that our citizens already contributed.”

She said it was a human issue, as opposed to political. When pressed on the issue, she said her message to House Republicans would be: “Come to the table. I think everybody needs to listen and keep working till they get it right. This is a very important issue.”

Mark Kerner, the foundation chair, who predicted hospital closures as well as patient deaths without the expansion, said “the continued growth, expansion and modernization” of Bon Secours Medical Center at Harbour View “is very much tied to whether this bill is passed.”

McAuliffe said lawmakers would continue working toward a solution in March after he called a special session of the legislature. He said he believed House Republicans would return to Richmond supporting the expansion after talking to constituents.

“There’s not a more powerful argument,” he said. “People will die, and hospitals will close. This is one of the most important political battles we have faced for a long time.”