Thank God for Medicaid Expansion

By Peter Galuszka

For years after the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” made millions of federal dollars available for states to expand Medicaid health coverage, Virginia Republicans steadfastly blocked Virginia from using the money.

Led by former House Speaker Bill Howell and Sen. Tommy Norment, the GOP claimed that expanding Medicaid to nearly 400,000 people would be too expensive and would blow out state funding.

This skinflint approach was finally put to rest after Democrat Ralph Northam became governor in 2018, foreshadowing a Democratic sweep of the General Assembly in elections last year.

Thank God the Democrats prevailed.

Virginia’s formerly robust economy has been shattered by the COVID 19 pandemic. Last week, some 110,000 Virginians filed for unemployment support. It was 46,277 the week before.

Who covers them is an open question but many would qualify for Medicaid. Expansion has boosted lower-income Virginians so that they may be able to better ride out the pandemic.

According to Nashville public radio station WPLN, a recent study in Health Affairs supports expansion .

“What researchers from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School found is that people in southern states that expanded Medicaid – like Arkansas, Virginia and Louisiana – are experiencing slower declines in physical health but also in mental health. The benefits are so notable among a historically vulnerable group that the authors say that expansion could substantially boost a state’s overall health ranking.”

The report continues: “The lead author of the study, Vanderbilt health policy professor John Graves, says the findings could influence debates in state legislatures still considering expansion.

“Health care policy experts and physicians have suspected this for a while but with our study, we now have the actual evidence showing that non-expanding Southern states could materially improve population health if they accept expansion funds,” Graves says.

It is fortuitous that the Howell’s and Norment’s of this state, along with a number of notable Bacon’s Rebellion commenters, failed to keep block Medicaid expansion.

Besides their bogus “it will cost too much argument,” their resistance was rooted in a Pavlov dog-like opposition to anything that former President Barack Obama tried to do.

They made the useful but somewhat flawed Obamacare plan a kind of right-wing touchstone.

Their ideas don’t have legs. COVID 19 is changing attitudes towards healthcare. When the pandemic ends, that will translate into more modern policies for healthcare. There is nothing the conservatives can do about it.