Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) held a roundtable discussion on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act today at Arlington Mill Community Center.
McAuliffe and Beyer joined federal Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to host about a dozen healthcare professionals, customers, legislators and healthcare business leaders and talk about the impacts of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, and the future of Medicaid expansion in Virginia.
“This is Virginia, the birthplace of our nation in 1607,” McAuliffe said. “We have a responsibility [to expand health insurance coverage].”
Dels. Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez were in attendance, as were state Sen. Barbara Favola and Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada. Hope pointed out that an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia would immediately cover 5,000 Arlington residents.
“We have got to solve this problem in Virginia,” Hope said.
Much of the discussion centered around the impact felt by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, not the absence of an expanded Medicaid. Beyer told a story about a worker at his car dealership who, before the ACA’s passage, couldn’t put his sick wife on health insurance because she had a pre-existing condition. The ACA made it illegal for insurance companies to deny insurance based on pre-existing conditions.
“I really think the Affordable Care Act will be remembered as the most significant moral legislation of the early 21st century,” Beyer said. “There was the Emancipation Proclamation, women’s suffrage, Social Security and now the Affordable Care Act.”
Burwell touted numbers that she say prove the ACA has started to accomplish its goals. Since 2010, 16.4 million fewer Americans are uninsured, she said, and hospitals saved $7.4 billion in 2014 in uncompensated care costs — what happens when a patient cannot afford to pay their medical bills.
Still, Burwell said, more than 60 percent of the uncompensated care savings came from states that have approved Medicaid expansion. That’s money McAuliffe said would go back into the Virginia economy if the legislature were to approve his recommendation.
“Talking to governors from states that have expanded, it’s not only given them healthcare, it’s a huge job creator,” he said.
McAuliffe pushed hard to get the Republican-controlled General Assembly to pass Medicaid expansion during its legislative session, but his attempts failed — partly, he said, because of GOP legislators’ fears of being beaten by a Tea Party candidate in a primary. Next year, McAuliffe believes the legislature will be more willing to close the coverage gap.