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The Right Note: Heading to Richmond

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

What can we expect from our newly elected delegate?

When asked what his first piece of legislation would be during the debate held at George Mason’s Arlington campus, Rip Sullivan said he would introduce a bill to force a trolley referendum. Based on the way he almost forgot to mention it that night, we can probably only expect at best a half-hearted attempt at bringing a referendum to a vote.

His second piece of legislation he said, would be an attempt to change the laws regarding special elections. It is very unlikely this is the highest priority of his new constituents. A higher priority would seem to be to replace an elected representative as quickly as possible on the constituents’ behalf.

Rip’s tenure will start in the upcoming special session of the General Assembly when they will consider the expansion of Medicaid. I think it is fair to say that he supports expanding Medicaid in virtually any way, shape or form.

To give some perspective, Medicaid currently costs almost $9 billion a year and consumes about 22 percent of our general fund budget in Virginia. It is the fastest-growing part of our budget, growing at an average of 8 percent annually. Medicaid is already on track to siphon off resources from education and transportation even if the federal government can find a way to pay for 90 percent of it forever.

Studies have also shown that because of Medicaid’s low reimbursement rates, hospitals pass that cost along to private insurance which raises our premiums — one 2008 study pegged the cost shift at $1,800 per year for a private plan. Driving 400,000 more people onto Medicaid’s rolls will not simply be “free money” for Virginia. It will cost all of us over and above what we already pay in taxes and what our federal government borrows to cover the $500 billion deficit.

But, what does Medicaid do for patients?

Evidence is mounting that Medicaid does not improve health outcomes for the patients who are on it, even versus the uninsured. A University of Virginia study found that surgical patients on Medicaid are 13 percent more likely to die before leaving the hospital than those with no insurance. Compared to those with private insurance, the number is 97 percent.

The UVA study follows a Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that studied Medicaid patients in Oregon. The results indicated Medicaid “generated no significant improvement in measured physical health outcomes.”

This Wall Street Journal article outlines other studies on where Medicaid falls short. Head and neck cancer, heart procedures, and lung transplant patients were all found to be worse off.

Some counter that Medicaid is better than no coverage at all. But with fewer doctors accepting Medicaid patients, less than half according to this survey, many will be be counted as “covered” despite being unable to find a primary care physician.

While Rip found a good talking point to help get his fellow Democrats to the polls on Tuesday, Medicaid is simply not a desirable form of health insurance coverage for Virginians.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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