Local Medicaid vote was by party

Published 5:49 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The bipartisan vote to expand Medicaid in Virginia fell along party lines among Isle of Wight County’s five state legislators. 

Del. Emily Brewer, 64th, Sen. John Cosgove, 14th and Sen. Tommy Norment, 3rd, all Republicans, voted against the expansion.

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Sen. Louise Lucas, 18th, and Del. Roslyn Tyler, 75th, both Democrats, voted in favor of the bill.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Overall, the House of Delegates voted 67-31 in favor, while the Senate voted 23-17, making Virginia one of 34 states to expand Medicaid coverage, a move which will provide access for up to 400,000 Virginians.

The expansion will open the door to an additional 1,000 Isle of Wight residents to be eligible for the program, according to Isle of Wight Director of Social Services Pam Barton, citing information from the Commonwealth Institute.

Currently, there are 4,722 Isle of Wight residents enrolled in Medicaid, according to Barton, adding this change will provide coverage for those who are eligible between ages 19-65 who are not limited by age or being blind or disabled. 

The Commonwealth has resisted expanding Medicaid for years, but this session the Virginia House of Delegates saw its power shift from a GOP majority to a nearly equal split between Republicans and Democrats after the 2017 election. 

In that election, the Democrats gained 15 seats. 

Area Republicans who voted in favor of the expansion included Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk and Del. David Yancy of Newport News.

The GOP-controlled Senate also saw some Republicans move in favor of expansion, including Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, Sen. Jill Vogel of Warrenton and Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr. of Augusta County. 

Norment voted against expansion, stating that its passage “abandons Virginia’s long-standing reputation for fiscal responsibility,” adding that those who participate in open enrollment will learn the “true consequences of this short-sighted decision the hard way later this year, when their rates and deductibles rise once again.”

Brewer opposed the budget, citing the “failed Obamacare system.”

“Medicaid expansion under Obamacare has failed in nearly every state it has been tried, increasing their budgets beyond all projections. With the current uncertainty of Medicaid funding at the federal level, this is not the time to begin experimenting with expansion. This year, the federal funding match for this program has already dropped to 93 percent, and is expected to drop to 90 percent over the next two years. As we have seen in the past, the federal government often makes promises for funding they can’t keep and that never comes to fruition. It is only a matter of time until Virginians are left shouldering the cost of expanding Obamacare,” said Brewer in an email.

Brewer bases her statement on a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability titled, “How the Obamacare dependency crisis could get even worse — and how to stop it,” and begins with, “Lured by the false promise of free money …” The report points out that states that expanded Medicaid exceeded its maximum enrollment projections and took issue with able-bodied adults signing up — crowding out funding for the truly needy. The FGA report cites the Kaiser Family Foundation.

However, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit that follows national health issues, paints a different picture.  

Rather, in states that have expanded Medicaid, the effects have been positive in terms of increased access to health care and savings, according to Kaiser.

“Analyses find positive effects of expansion on numerous economic outcomes, despite Medicaid enrollment growth initially exceeding projections in many states and Medicaid growing faster than other programs in state budgets.  Studies show that Medicaid expansions result in reductions in uncompensated care costs for hospitals, clinics, and other providers,” according to Kaiser. 

“National research found that there were no significant increases in spending from state funds as a result of Medicaid expansion and no significant reductions in state spending on education, transportation, or other state programs as a result of expansion during FYs 2010-2015,” according to Kaiser.

Federal assistance for Medicaid expansion was 100 percent from 2014-16 and gradually phases down to 90 percent in 2020 and remains at that level. 

Meanwhile, the Western Tidewater Free Clinic Board of Directors is discussing the impact that expansion will have on the organization, but believes this is a monumental step Virginia has taken to help those in need and applauds the commitment, said spokesperson Ashley Greene.

“We will continue to honor our mission, which is to provide high-quality health care to those who cannot otherwise afford it. It will take time to confirm our future position, as it will take time for the details of the policy change to be implemented by the state and federal agencies,” said Greene.

The Western Tidewater Free Clinic serves adults who lack health insurance with non-emergency health care. 

Barton is expecting a flurry of applications once the new provision gets underway. 

She said Social Services has to process all applications whether the applicant is eligible or not and stresses that Medicaid still has income and resource limitations.  {/mprestriction}