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Medicaid expansion good start on health care access, Northam says

Stephen Igo • Jul 6, 2018 at 6:00 PM

NORTON — Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday said expansion of Medicaid coverage for an estimated 400,000 Virginians is a great step forward for improving access to health care, but more remains to be done.

Speaking during a tour of Norton Community Hospital along with members of Southwest Virginia’s state legislative delegation and 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, Northam said he was essentially making a “listening tour” of the area. The governor did a bit of speaking too, having earlier announced a business expansion and 50 new jobs during a prior stop in Scott County.

Northam said health care facilities like NCH — one of many community hospitals in Tennessee and Virginia that are part of the new Ballad Health system, a merger of the former Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont systems — are blessed with “talented people, hardworking people,” and Medicaid expansion in Virginia will help them provide health care all citizens deserve.

“We want to make sure all Virginians have access to health care,” Northam said, “but we still have a lot of work to do,” particularly dealing with the high and ever escalating costs of health care.

“We all need to work together (to deal with health care costs) because if we don’t, it will take you to your knees,” Northam said. Access such as Medicaid expansion plays a big role in reining in costs, he added, and technological advances as simple as telemedicine have played and will play a role as well.

“Again ... there are a lot of things we can do to address cost,” he said, praising the Southwest Virginia delegation for helping to push Medicaid through the Virginia General Assembly. As a physician who served in the military, Northam said he’s seen “lots of hospitals,” but “one of the things I really cherish (about Southwest Virginia) is the people here are genuine, hardworking and just want a level playing field” when it comes to economic opportunity and affordable health care.

Ballad Health Executive Chairman, President and CEO Alan Levine said the MSHA/Wellmonth merger was “intended for a new way of doing things” for the good of the communities Ballad serves, including as a positive economic opportunity driver.

With all other community benefits a solid health care system can affect including economic development, Levine emphasized that “the only thing that matters to us is quality health care.”

Of Northam, Levine said, “I appreciate his style. He does. He listens.”

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