The Virginia legislature is considering several approaches to expanding government funding for health care. A Senate committee heard extensive debate on the subject Thursday morning and defeated all proposals. The debate was illuminating.
Although the politicians all carefully avoided calling the efforts “medicaid expansion,” most of the members of the public who spoke in favor of the proposal did not hesitate to do so. Advocates for people with disabilities spoke in favor of the proposals in the Senate Committee on Health and Education this morning.
Virginia’s health care providers have long advocated for medicaid expansion, noting the huge amount of federal funding that would come into the state under the federal Affordable Care Act, and the relief they would have from having to provide health care to the poor that is not otherwise paid for by any program.
Senator Barker, one of the patrons of expansion, stated that current polls show that support for expansion by Virginians ranges from between 60 % to 83 % , and cautioned that the recent house elections demonstrate how important this issue to Virginians. He stated that he appreciates his colleagues in the Senate and will miss serving with them if they oppose the efforts to increase health care.
Senator Chase did oppose the efforts, arguing that expanding medicaid would actually hurt people with intellectual disabilities who are waiting for waiver services. Senator Howell said that the exact opposite is true, because of the greater infusion of resources that will come from the federal government and because our hospital systems will no longer need to bare the costs of unfunded medical care. Senator Howell argued that the savings from expansion could be directed to medicaid waivers, allowing Virginia to come closer to eliminating the ever-growing waiting list for these crucial services.
The only public opposition at the hearing came from Americans for Prosperity, a national anti-health care lobbyist group, who argued that medicaid is not cost effective. Nonetheless, in the face of overwhelming public support, the Senate Committee of Health and Education defeated all proposals along a party line vote of 8 to 7
We were grateful to hear from Senator Hanger, the chief patron of the bill, that the priority under the proposal would have been to direct funds to mental health and substance abuse needs. Virginia’s mental health services are notoriously underfunded; the Senate Committee’s decision to defeat the proposals only ensures that the huge gap between needs and services will not be closed any time soon.