My View: Virginia General Assembly erred in not expanding Medicaid

My View: Virginia General Assembly erred in not expanding Medicaid
File photo

By Bill Euille (File photo)

The Virginia General Assembly’s refusal to expand the state Medicaid program places more than 5,000 very low-income (mostly “working poor”) residents of Alexandria at a continued high risk of poor health, premature death, and increased financial instability.

Research clearly shows that individuals without health insurance are much less likely to receive preventive health care and are more likely to delay medical treatment or forgo it altogether due to cost. They are at higher risk for preventable hospitalizations and for missed diagnoses of serious health conditions. Not granting Medicaid eligibility to this population exacerbates existing coverage and access disparities among racial and ethnic groups across the Commonwealth.

As the mayor of Alexandria, I am extremely troubled by the fact that the General Assembly’s failure to implement Medicaid expansion means that Alexandria (and Virginia) federal tax dollars are not being sent back to our city and other jurisdictions throughout the state, but rather are going towards helping to increase coverage in other states that have opted to expand the program. For example, individuals with identical economic circumstances to that of our own low-income population in Alexandria but who live just across the Potomac River from our city in Washington and in Prince George’s County, Md., have been the beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion funding for almost two years now.

Many of the estimated 5,000 very low-income residents in Alexandria denied Medicaid eligibility are the working poor. These are non-elderly individuals who are either working part-time or full-time but their incomes are too low to afford health insurance and they do not qualify for Medicaid. I believe an investment in their health would create a more productive workforce, leading to a growing local economy, more jobs and a more vibrant future.

The Alexandria City Council and I will continue to support the governor’s efforts to obtain an agreement with the General Assembly to expand the Medicaid program. However, in the absence of such an agreement, I believe we have a responsibility to many in our low-income community to do what we can to ensure that their health conditions are not made worse or deteriorate further as a result of the denial of their access to comprehensive Medicaid coverage.

To that end, with city council’s approval I have appointed an Advisory Panel on the Uninsured to examine their health care needs and to develop recommendations that can improve coverage for those greatest in need and to expand access to essential health care services for many.

The city of Alexandria cannot make our low-income population whole by guaranteeing each of them a comparable benefit package to that of Medicaid; only the state and federal government can do that. Nevertheless, Alexandria is a wealthy and compassionate city, one that has responded often and generously to those in need. And I am confident that our community will come together again and find the resources to help protect and preserve the health and well-being of many of our most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged citizens.

The writer is the mayor of Alexandria.