A Winchester Star editorial singled out state Sen. Jill Vogel this week, admonishing her to "stand firm" in her opposition to Medicaid expansion when the General Assembly reconvenes April 11 to hammer out a state budget, a task lawmakers failed to accomplish before adjourning March 10.
Encouraging Vogel to resist expanding the federal health-care program for the poor to an estimated 300,000 low-income Virginians, the Star cited the same objection Medicaid-expansion naysayers have repeated for the past four years. Namely, that a deeply indebted federal government can't be trusted to cover its promised 90-percent share of the cost, potentially blowing a multi-billion-dollar Medicaid hole in the budget in future years.
We’re glad our fellow newspapers are weighing in on Medicaid expansion. It's truly a life-or-death issue for thousands of Virginians, many of whom have relied on charity care, free clinics and GoFundMe pages to cover unavoidable medical emergencies, some of which were undoubtedly the result of delaying routine medical care due to a lack of insurance.
We also understand the Star’s effort to speak directly to Vogel, the one elected official Winchester and Fauquier County share who holds the most sway in the Medicaid debate. Indeed, it would take the votes of just two Republican senators to unlock access to Medicaid -- and routine medical care – to Virginians who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,750 for an individual or $28,700 for a family of three).
Despite Vogel’s past opposition to Medicaid expansion -- including her vote on the most recent Senate budget, which omits it -- we see a glimmer of hope in the comments she made in the Winchester Star news story that preceded the editorial.
"There are a number of ways to get ... this right, including good reform measures to adopt," Vogel told reporter Onofrio Castiglia regarding Medicaid.
We called Vogel to ask that she expound on those comments but have yet to receive a call back.
In the meantime, we're going to assume she’s looking at Medicaid with fresh eyes, eager to hear from constituents about what Medicaid expansion would mean for them. Indeed, we encourage our readers to contact her on their own at email@example.com or 540-662-4551.
Here’s what we would say:
• Virginians already pay for Medicaid expansion through their federal income taxes and have been since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014. In effect, that means we’re paying for low-income residents in other states to take advantage of the health-care insurance not available to our own low-income residents.
• Virginia's stellar triple-A bond rating could be in jeopardy if lawmakers continue to refuse federal Medicaid funding. That's according to Virginia Secretary Aubrey Layne who recently told the Richmond Times-Dispatch the state will need the millions in federal dollars it would receive to expand Medicaid to bolster Virginia’s financial reserves, which S&P called "out of step" with its AAA-rated peers.
• Schools benefit if Virginia expands Medicaid. The House of Delegates' budget, passed with 19 Republican votes, spends an extra $420 million on state priorities, including its public schools, thanks to the extra Medicaid funding.
• Virginia's current Medicaid program is among the stingiest in the nation. To qualify, a disabled person can make no more than $9,700 a year, and a family of three, no more than $6,900. Able-bodied, childless adults under the age of 65 do not qualify no matter how little they make.
• If the federal government stops paying, Virginia can suspend Medicaid expansion. That assurance is already written into the House budget.
To be clear, Medicaid expansion is not a cure-all. It won’t make private-health-insurance premiums cheaper and it won’t make a big-enough dent in the long list of disabled Virginians waiting for a separate program, dubbed a Medicaid “waiver.” But there are certainly more reasons to expand Medicaid than not.
That’s where we stand. Now, it's your chance to weigh in. What should Sen. Jill Vogel should do?