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McAuliffe calls for Medicaid expansion during Wise County visit

March 4th, 2014 9:31 pm by Stephen Igo

McAuliffe calls for Medicaid expansion during Wise County visit

VA. GOV. TERRY McAULIFFE (AP file photo)

WISE — Gov. Terry McAuliffe brought his traveling Medicaid expansion show to Wise County on Tuesday, part of his statewide tour to drum up support for his desire to push Virginia full in for Obamacare.

McAuliffe began his Wise County Medicaid expansion campaign effort at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, with subsequent stopovers planned for Mountain View Regional Medical Center in Norton and The Health Wagon clinic in Wise.

Addressing a gathering of area business, health care provider and other officials at the UVa-Wise David J. Prior Convocation Center, McAuliffe said it no longer mattered how anyone felt about Obamacare because the U.S. Supreme Court already settled the issue. Essentially, the deciding vote on a 5-4 split bench determined Obamacare is a tax and thus constitutional.

On Tuesday McAuliffe said Republicans in the House of Delegates were risking a state government shutdown because they won’t approve the governor’s Medicaid expansion that he said would add 400,000 Virginians to the Medicaid rolls, giving them better access to medical care, and free up more than $1 billion annually in state taxpayer funds because the federal government — currently $17 trillion in debt and rising — will pay for 100 percent of the expansion for three years.

McAuliffe said it made no sense to spurn federal dollars that represent a return of Virginia taxpayer money. States had the option to join, or not, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and 27 did. McAuliffe said turning down expansion means Virginia money is going to those states.

“That absolutely makes no sense,” he said.

McAuliffe said the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid rolls “is not a cost. It’s a savings,” and a bipartisan effort as well. Three Republicans have endorsed the expansion in Virginia’s Senate and none, at least not yet, in the heavily GOP-controlled House.

The impasse in the General Assembly is greater than Medicaid, however, because McAuliffe and Senate Democrats have chosen to include it in the state budget. McAuliffe has said he won’t accept a budget without Medicaid expansion, so a potential state shutdown is at stake.

McAuliffe urged all in attendance at UVa-Wise to lean on state Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, who represents all of Scott and Lee counties and most of Wise County, to get him to change his position.

That seemed unlikely, at least on Tuesday with the governor in Kilgore’s backyard and Kilgore on duty in Richmond in the Virginia General Assembly.

Earlier Tuesday, Kilgore told the Times-News he found it ironic Democrats were apoplectic over a federal government shutdown late last year over Obamacare, yet using that very threat in Virginia unless legislators bow to his terms on Medicaid expansion.

“A: It shouldn’t be in the budget,” Kilgore said. “And B: The Senate plan he is espousing, there are far too many unanswered questions such as how much it costs, and is federal money always going to be there? With Obamacare, you go down this road and it could cost more in the future than what we spend on public education and higher education. There are just a lot of unanswered questions right now, and it’s just not smart for a state that has to balance a budget.”

Kilgore said it’s best to follow the House GOP’s desire to audit the state’s Medicaid program first in order to eliminate waste and fraud before jumping into an expansion without reform.

“We hear there is 20 to 30 percent waste in our Medicaid programs right now. We need to tighten that down. Take a year, do that, get our ship right and come back and see what that finds, and see where we go forward.”

But McAuliffe told the throng at UVa-Wise that he has heard all the arguments opposed to the expansion and none of them are valid. GOP objections McAuliffe shrugged off include whether the expansion will bankrupt the state “on the back end,” or after federal support is ratcheted back after three years with states to shoulder more, or at least 10 percent as currently espoused by Obamacare.

McAuliffe said the GOP has received the results of an audit of Medicaid and it shows 69 percent of 400,000 uninsured Virginians could be enrolled “and save (Virginia) $1.1 billion.”

“We’ve got to get in the game, folks,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

Regional health provider representatives from Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance told the governor hospitals are pushed beyond the limits trying to stay financially solvent, as well as hobbled to make investments to improve health care — and area residents are caught in the squeeze as well.

Wellmont President and CEO Denny DeNarvaez said “there is not a whole lot of good news but there is a whole lot of bad news” associated with health care reform efforts.

A sizeable chunk of the region’s population in both Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee is uninsured, DeNarvaez said, and while expanding Medicaid would be part of the solution, Obamacare isn’t much help when it comes to higher copays and higher deductibles for those who are insured.

Folks facing a choice between paying a copay or a payment on a deductible, and having dinner, are sensibly more likely to put groceries on the table for their families first, she said.

“Do I think there are worse things to come?” she asked McAuliffe. “Yes. I absolutely do.”

McAuliffe said Virginia is skipping out on $5.2 million a day in federal Medicaid dollars, and has whiffed on more than $270 million since Jan. 1 by not expanding its program. The governor said if Medicaid expansion got approved Tuesday, 2,300 Wise Countians could be enrolled by Saturday.

The governor said he has told Kilgore that 5,000 of his constituents could gain Medicaid status. He accused the House of Delegates of refusing to “even talk about it,” let alone compromise, and said Republicans have turned the issue into a partisan political football.

“Compromise is not a bad word,” McAuliffe said, “but all you hear is no, no, no” from House Republicans.

Kilgore said it is the governor who is unwilling to compromise.

“I never said ‘No’ to expand Medicaid. But we have to reform it first,” Kilgore said. “I’m not just going to vote to put more money into a broken system right now. And no, it shouldn’t even be in the budget. He put it there because that’s the only bargaining power he has. The reason Senate Democrats put it there is because they know a straight out bill won’t pass.”

McAuliffe said House Republicans are engaged in “partisan ideological politics” and then urged those in attendance to write letters to the editor to local newspapers and “get on TV” to tell Republicans “you are sacrificing our children’s future medically and economically.” 

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