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January 28, 2016

No Substitute for Closing the Gap

Some state lawmakers mistakenly believe that building a new clinic or installing new medical equipment will help the hundreds of thousands of Virginians stuck in the health coverage gap. They said as much at a press conference last week, where they asserted that altering or eliminating the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) system will somehow provide more people with care even if they lack health insurance.

That’s like saying more restaurants is the answer to hunger. But if you can’t afford to eat in any of them, it doesn’t matter how many there are.

Cutting or eliminating COPN regulations on building new health care facilities or adding new, expensive equipment may increase the number of places providing healthcare services, but it won’t help the 230,000 Virginians in the coverage gap. That’s because they still can’t afford the health care offered in those brand-new facilities.

Some proponents of altering or repealing COPN  suggest that under their method, new investments could be conditioned on providing additional charity care to the community. While charity care is a good thing, it is not the same as people being able to get regular checkups, preventive care, and other medical treatment available to people with insurance. Charity care has always been a last resort – not the key to a healthy, productive life.

The fact is, without affordable health insurance, people still can’t see a doctor without the fear of huge medical bills. Insurance is the first step toward people getting regular health care.

Lawmakers have in front of them a solution to close this coverage gap. It will save the state precious tax dollars, maximize the use of available federal money, and provide a lifeline to struggling rural hospitals. Expanding Medicaid in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act would mean more people get medical attention because it would help more people be able to afford it.

There’s no substitute for closing the coverage gap. Because when you’re stuck in it, it doesn’t matter what’s on the menu.

–Jeff Connor-Naylor, Program Director

The Commonwealth Institute

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