The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that our neighbors to the north are giving serious consideration to expanding Medicaid. Although Gov. Bob McDonnell has state his opposition to expansion unless program reforms are first implemented, both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have addressed Medicaid expansion in their budget. The Virginia Senate has passed a budget that provides for expanding Medicaid.
The House is taking a more cautious approach. Members there want to first reform the entire program, and then get approval in next year’s General Assembly. That would mean Virginia would give up one of three years of 100 percent federal payment for the expansion. That perk is only available in 2014, 2015, and 2016, even if a state doesn’t expand until after 2014.
Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources spoke to the legislature earlier this week, urging quicker action to enable Virginia to take advantage of the extra generous early federal funding.
A compelling argument for expansion was made by Barry DuVal, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Duval argues that to remain competitive, Virginia needs an attractive business climate, which includes “well-prepared work force”
As the state’s leading business organization, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce views itself as the guardian of our state’s reputation for being the best for business. This is why we carefully assess the important public policy questions of the day, to determine what is the best course for business in the commonwealth and for maintaining our competitive advantage with other states. In the case of Medicaid reform and extension of coverage to the uninsured, the best path in our judgment is to move forward with reforming our state’s largest health insurance program and extending health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians, primarily from working families.
DuVal points to the impact uncompensated care as on insurance premiums paid by businesses for their workers. He also notes the competitive advantage that having insured workers would provide for Virginia and the projection that expansion would add some 30,000 jobs in the state. (A study of North Carolina’s economy projects about 24,000 new jobs with Medicaid expansion.)
Lower health care costs have long been a competitive advantage that overseas companies use against U.S. firms. We simply cannot afford to have lower health care costs become a competitive advantage that other states use against Virginia in economic development. Moreover, Chmura Economics and Analytics estimates that extending Medicaid coverage will create more than 30,000 jobs annually and billions in economic activity right here in Virginia.
Even more fundamentally, covering more than a quarter-million uninsured Virginians by offering them higher quality, lower cost health care will add to what we at the Virginia Chamber view as Virginia’s greatest competitive advantage of all: The commonwealth is the best place to live, work and raise a family. Having too many uninsured patients hurts our quality of life because many of our fellow citizens are not as healthy as they should be in the work place and in school. Emergency departments are more crowded than they should be, because the uninsured have few other options for obtaining needed care. This limits the ability of our health care system to respond to emergency situations, like a natural disaster or a disease outbreak. It is hard to maintain our quality-of-life advantage without doing all we can to strengthen our health care system and the health of our people.
DuVal’s neighbors to the south might want to take a look at what the competition is thinking.