The Virginia legislature is debating a unique opportunity this legislative session. If the state participates in the Medicaid expansion made possible by the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 400,000 Virginians could gain access to healthcare through their ability to afford health insurance.
Virginia’s Medicaid guidelines, now, are so restrictive that the state ranks 44th in the country. Only six states make it more difficult to receive assistance, through Medicaid, than does Virginia. For a state that consistently ranks among the top 10-wealthiest states in America, our current Medicaid eligibility requirements reflect an almost uncaring disregard of the day-to-day reality of working families — families of friends, neighbors, and relatives.
Imagine yourself living in Fairfax or Arlington County, in northern Virginia, and you are being told that your family of three does not qualify for Medicaid because the adult collective-gross is more than $5,974. That’s only 30 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but that’s the current income ceiling cap for a family of that size under Virginia’s Medicaid guidelines.
Many of Virginia’s citizens fall into a huge Medicaid gap. They are too poor, whether working or not, to be able to afford health insurance out of their earnings, and they are too “rich” to qualify for Medicaid under our current guidelines. This makes no sense when well-reasoned alternatives are available.
The media, in touch with the real financial struggles of these communities, know these families well— and many others like them. Their family members often suffer from treatable medical conditions, in silence, until the pain is unbearable. Unable to pay for a primary-care physician, they resort to using the emergency room as their treatment plan.
Emergency room visits by those whose conditions could have identified and treated -- had they been able to afford the insurance to have seen a doctor – are paid for by the facility. Eventually we all pay anyway, as our taxes enable those facilities to continue to operate.
These stories are often heard, but the anxiety and misery the state’s Medicaid guidelines inflict upon the working poor, the elderly, and the disabled, is underestimated.
Virginia’s present Governor, Bob McDonnell, chose to strip the money from his proposed budget that the federal government will reimburse. The Senate, in an act of bi-partisanship, to its credit, has chosen to restore it. If that budget is passed by the General Assembly, Virginia would be eligible to have the federal government pay, for three years beginning in 2014, the cost of all those who fall in the gap. Thereafter, Virginia will never pay more than 10 percent of those costs.
Virginians should encourage an enlightened debate about what’s at stake. The legislative session ends February 22nd. Let your state legislator know that the politics of Medicaid disenfranchisement costs more lives and incomes than revising the state’s Medicaid guidelines in the current Senate-proposed budget. Virginia’s future, and the future health of its Commonwealth, depends on your voice and your support.
Call or contact your legislators. Urge them to vote for expanding Virginia’s Medicaid guidelines so that more families and individuals can afford health insurance. The time is now, your voice is important.