Health / Opinion & Editorial / Politics / Virginia

Terry McAuliffe: Republicans are out of excuses on Medicaid expansion

Terry McAuliffe is the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

An editorial by Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Republicans in Richmond have a choice to make. They can choose to stand up for health and opportunity for their constituents and a stronger Virginia economy, or they can allow divisive partisan politics to continue to hurt their commonwealth.

For the past 3½ years, Virginia has been engaged in a discussion about joining the 31 states that accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid and offer more citizens access to quality health care.

If you are a taxpayer in Virginia, Republicans in Richmond have so far blocked your federal tax dollars from coming home, even as you have been paying for Medicaid expansion in West Virginia, Maryland and the District. They have offered a range of excuses, which, as the Affordable Care Act has been implemented, have all proved empty. The result is that Virginia has been prevented from reaping the benefits even as Virginians haven’t saved a dime in taxes.

Now, after President Trump and Republicans in Congress have failed to repeal the ACA and demonstrated clearly that Medicaid expansion will continue to benefit the states that accept it, the time for excuses is over.

On Wednesday, Republicans in Richmond will consider a budget proposal I have submitted to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program. Accepting it would be a victory for Virginia’s families, economy and health-care system.

If Republicans accept my amendment, we can expand health-care coverage to as many as 400,000 Virginians who are just one accident or illness away from financial ruin or death.

We can create 30,000 jobs.

We can save our state budget more than $73 million per year.

We can invest nearly $300 million to improve Virginia’s behavioral-health system and combat the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities all over the country.

And we can throw a lifeline to hospitals, particularly in rural communities, that are struggling to stay afloat because of declining federal support for offsetting the care they offer to patients who can’t afford to pay.

These benefits are awaiting Virginia if we expand Medicaid. In fact, we already are paying for them. Since the ACA became law, Virginia taxpayers have left more than $10 billion on the table that could have been spent covering our friends and neighbors and creating jobs. Every day we wait, we waste another $6.6 million.

Virginia Republicans have offered a litany of excuses for not accepting these benefits. First there was the concern that the commonwealth could not afford the 10 percent portion of the cost of expansion in order to get the federal government to cover the other 90 percent. That concern was alleviated when Virginia’s hospitals offered to cover the state’s share — allowing them (and Virginia taxpayers) to bring the benefits of expansion home with zero risk or obligation to the commonwealth’s budget.

Then Republicans fretted that leaders in Washington would repeal or change the plan in a way that would put Virginia at risk. Trump, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the Republican-majority Congress eliminated that concern when they wrote a health-care bill that did not do away with the expansion — and then failed to pass anything at all, preserving the program in its entirety.

Even if these excuses were grounded in reality, they would not justify denying 400,000 Virginians access to lifesaving care for which they are already footing the bill. Some of the most conservative governors in the country, including Vice President Pence when he was governor of Indiana and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), expanded Medicaid because it was the right thing to do. In the wake of last week’s failure with a replacement health-care bill, other conservative states are also moving in that direction.

If Virginia Republicans continue to obstruct progress on this important issue, it should be clear to their constituents that they are motivated solely by tea-party politics, not sound public policy. Virginians who lack access to health care are waiting. Families and communities coping with our mental-health and opioid crises are waiting. Virginia hospitals and health-care providers struggling with their bottom lines are waiting.

On Wednesday, Virginia Republicans can end the wait, put political excuses aside and bring billions of our own taxpayer dollars home to save lives, create jobs and make our commonwealth stronger.