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Note to Virginia: Accept the Money, Cover the Uninsured

Under the health care law, states can accept significant federal funding to expand health coverage through the Medicaid program. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs in the first few years, and at least 90 percent of the costs after that. As many as 7 million women who are currently uninsured could gain coverage nationwide, including 169,000 uninsured Virginia women. But as governors do the arithmetic and urge their state legislators to accept the federal money, including conservative governors such as Jan Brewer (R-AZ), John Kasich (R-OH), Susanna Martinez (R-NM) and Rick Snyder (R-MI), opponents have begun to ratchet up their rhetoric and recycle worn out misinformation in an effort discourage other states from following suit.

These attacks feature some familiar arguments – Medicaid is a poor program for poor people, states can’t trust the federal government to keep its promises, Medicaid will crowd-out other state priorities. Virginia voters should not be misled by these tired tropes.

Critics like Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute think Virginians should reject the federal money, arguing that Medicaid is a costly component of the state budget. But the truth is that by accepting the federal money, Virginia will be saving taxpayer dollars and helping 169,000 hard-working women and their families get the preventive care and medical services they need. Preventive care keeps women out of emergency rooms and helps women lead healthier more productive lives – all in all, a smarter use of health care dollars.  And national researchers and economists have estimated that accepting the federal money will save Virginia $424 million over 10 years in spending on public hospitals, public clinics, indigent care and other expenses. Accepting the federal money is simply a smarter use of healthcare dollars, and a better way to provide coverage for the uninsured.  

Opponents also argue that expanding Medicaid will only take more money away from other Virginia priorities, like education. But health coverage and education go hand-in-hand and work together to help families thrive. Finally, providing health coverage through the Medicaid program is a tried-and-true approach to improving health outcomes and access to care. Ms. Turner argues that Medicaid is the worst health program in the country and that Medicaid coverage is worse than being uninsured. Sadly, she ignores a recent evaluation of state initiatives to expand coverage through Medicaid to uninsured, low-income adults that have resulted in significantly reduced mortality, better access to care and better self-reported health status – exactly the results the states (and the federal government) will look for as they expand coverage under the health care law.