Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told a group of health care professionals and advocates gathered in Arlington to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act that after this state election cycle, he’s “reasonably optimistic” that the state legislature will back his push to enroll the state in the Medicaid expansion component of the act. He said that the argument in favor of the expansion is too strong simply from an economic development standpoint for reasonable Republicans, who’ve blocked it so far, to continue rejecting it.
But he said that any reasonable Republicans in the legislature are now fearing for “being Tea Partied” in their own GOP primaries if they came out for the expansion, so they will wait until after this year’s elections. All state senate and house of delegate seats will be up for election this November.
Meanwhile, over 400,000 Virginians are being kept from having health care coverage due to the Tea Party-inspired right wing opposition to expansion, and $1.7 billion in federal funds to Virginia to pay for it are being forfeited as a result. “In addition to the moral obligation we have, expansion of Medicaid in Virginia will be a huge economic driver and job creator,” he said.
McAuliffe was joined by U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., who serves the 8th District of Virginia that covers Falls Church, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell to lead today’s event that also included contributions from State Delegates Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez and State Sen. Barbara Favola and numerous state health advocates. Neil McNulty of the Virginia Business Coalition on Health said, “The business community needs to take the time to understanding the economic benefits” of the ACA and Medicaid expansion, adding to new business will want to go where there is no health care (referring to southwest Virginia, where one hospital has already closed and four others are on the brink).
McAuliffe echoed the comments, saying that approving the expansion of Medicaid in the state “could turbo charge our economy.” He said when he is working to bring new businesses to Virginia, not having Medicaid expansion in the state “it is like having one arm tied behind my back.” He noted that other states under leadership more conservative than Virginia have opted for it, states like Utah, Kentucky and Tennessee. Right now, he said, a once-a-year team clinic held in Wise County is so overwhelmed with uninsured people seeking care that over a thousands are turned away and have to wait another year for medical attention.
HHS Secretary Burwell said that the goals of the ACA are in three areas — affordability, quality and access. In all three areas, the impact of the ACA has been better than predicted even by its proponents. Between 2011 and 2013, the nation experienced the lowest per capita health care costs on record.
Rep. Beyer said that “nothing has made a difference like the Affordable Care Act,” calling its passage and implementation “the most moral act of leadership in the 21st century so far,” following the legacy of moral acts to found Social Security, Medicare and voting rights. “It’s a terrible irony,” he added, “that the people who need it the most have elected officials that are opposed to it.”