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January 1, 2014

Coverage Gap Rings in Virginia’s New Year

Starting today, a big  problem Virginia lawmakers created by putting politics ahead of people  gets real for tens of thousands of hard-working Virginians. It won’t be a very happy new year for them if they get sick, because the state failed to take advantage of a great opportunity to make sure they had health insurance.

How did we get here?

Low-income families were supposed to get quality, affordable health care under federal health care reform. But the U.S. Supreme Court made part of the new law – expanding Medicaid – a state option. It’s an option that, so far, Virginia policymakers have refused to take.

The result is that many Virginians are stuck in a health insurance “coverage gap,” though they don’t make a lot of money it’s too much to get Medicaid but not enough to get the tax credits the new law provides to buy insurance in the marketplace. So a family of four making more than $23,500 a year gets help from federal tax credits to buy health insurance. But if they make less – between $8,500 and $23,500 – they get neither tax credits nor Medicaid.

The decision not to expand Medicaid isn’t just bad for Virginians’ health; it hurts the economy.

Every day Virginia fails to expand Medicaid eligibility, the state loses out on about $5 million in federal money that could support 20,000 jobs, and the state can’t get that money back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Plus, expanding Medicaid could actually save the state money, to the tune of about $370,000 per day. That’s because the federal funds would be used to pay for services Virginia now provides with its own money to people who lack insurance.

It doesn’t have to be this way. States across the country have made the right decision. They are expanding Medicaid, starting today.

Virginia lawmakers need to close this unconscionable gap, accept the federal dollars already allocated to the state, and get Virginians the coverage they need to be healthy and the peace of mind that comes with it.

–Massey Whorley, Senior Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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