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May 23, 2013

Thanks Obamacare

Last week, the Virginia Department of Social Services won an award for CommonHelp, an internet portal where Virginians can apply for public assistance, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Medicaid.

Governor McDonnell eagerly applauded the department for “their commitment to finding innovative solutions for delivery of government services to citizens across the Commonwealth,” a compliment that is well deserved. But we should also give credit to the true driving force behind CommonHelp: the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act requires states to allow consumers to apply for Medicaid online, regardless of whether the state participates in Medicaid expansion. To help states meet this obligation, the Obama administration offered a 90 percent match rate for the administrative costs for design and development of Medicaid eligibility systems and a 75 percent match rate for its maintenance – much more generous than the 50 percent rates typically offered for development and maintenance – to help the states pay for web portals and other system changes. 

Despite opposing the Affordable Care Act, Gov. McDonnell took the funding match, allowing Virginia to receive $52.7 million from the federal government over two years while only contributing $9.5 million in state general funds. These funds were used to modernize and enhance the online system – CommonHelp – so that people can quickly find out if they are eligible for Medicaid and other types of federal assistance, and then easily sign up, if they qualify.

The governor was right to give credit to the employees at the Virginia Department of Social Services for their hard work on this project. He should acknowledge the Affordable Care Act’s successes, too.

Ben Paul, Program Assistant

The Commonwealth Institute

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