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Peter’s Take: Healthcare for Virginia’s Poor

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a January column, I urged Virginia state legislators to find bi-partisan common ground to expand Medicaid coverage. So far, they have failed to find it.

In that earlier column, I quoted with approval from a Virginian-Pilot editorial warning that the cost of resisting Medicaid expansion would be ruinous:

Virginia lawmakers can preserve the financial health of hospitals across the commonwealth, save state tax dollars, strengthen local and state economies, extend managed health-care to nearly 400,000 people, many of them working poor, and recoup nearly $10 billion in federal taxes paid by Virginians over the next five years.

Or they can continue the reckless political theater destined to grow more costly with every passing year, a play that will cause a financial crisis at hospitals all across Virginia.

After spending six months, and engaging in thousands of hours of bitter partisan conflict, we now have arrived at the ruinous situation about which the Virginian-Pilot warned. Every Republican in the Virginia legislature voted last week against Medicaid expansion.

Most Republican legislative leaders who fought expansion argued it was the wrong policy solution. That surely CANNOT be because opposition to Medicaid expansion is some kind of core Republican Party value. Republican Governors in eight states (Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Ohio) have either signed or supported legislation expanding Medicaid. Republican Governors in two other states (Indiana and Pennsylvania) have led alternative efforts to provide healthcare for the poor.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican Governor has made a health care reform proposal that would improve access to Medicaid for hundreds of thousands of residents through a premium assistance model. Up to 520,000 eligible low-income residents would receive federal subsidies to purchase private coverage through Pennsylvania’s federally run insurance exchange. Federal Medicaid expansion funds would be used to help eligible residents purchase commercial insurance.

Republicans in these other states have demonstrated greater leadership than Virginia Republicans in successfully addressing an enormous public policy problem. By carefully studying the Republican solutions in these other states, Virginia Republican legislative leaders should be able to find the right solution for Virginia.

While a few Virginia Republican legislators have expressed interest in providing a better healthcare solution for Virginia’s poor, most Republican and some Democratic legislators still seem focused on “reckless political theatre”.

Our failure to act may be better than some of the proposed solutions, but it surely is not better than the status quo.

If Republicans and Democrats in eight other states could act under Republican governors, then Virginia should be able to act under a Democratic Governor.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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