The Executive Director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care admits any expansion of Medicaid in the Mountain State must come with reforms to reduce the costs of the health care coverage program.
“We’re willing to deal with the costs of Medicaid,” Perry Bryant said.
“But we need to expand, take the money that Congress has already set aside to help our friends and neighbors and make sure that they have health care coverage and can get access when the need it.”
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has not yet decided whether West Virginia will be taking an option, created within the Affordable Care Act, to expand Medicaid eligibility from the current 130% of the poverty level to 138% of the poverty level.
The change could potentially add 120,000 low income West Virginians to the 415,000 who currently qualify for Medicaid coverage. With the expansion, individuals making up to $15,000 a year would qualify.
“These are uninsured West Virginians,” Bryant said on Wednesday’s MetroNews Talkline of the people who could potentially meet the criteria. “They’re getting health insurance right now. They’re just getting it in a very inefficient way.”
Critics of the possible expansion of Medicaid say the state cannot afford it. At the current coverage levels, West Virginia’s share of Medicaid, which is now at $870 million annually, will grow to $900 million next year and even more in the coming years.
As proposed, the federal government would pay for 100% of the added costs of Medicaid expansion through 2017, but reduce that contribution to 90% by 2020. There are concerns the federal subsidy of the expansion would decrease even more in subsequent years.
Governor Tomblin has asked for a full study of the potential costs of the expansion of Medicaid. The results of that study are expected to be finalized by next month.
Bryant, however, sees the expansion of Medicaid as an economic development opportunity. He says it could create 6,000 health jobs in West Virginia and potentially generate more than $664 million in economic activity by 2016.
“There is no jobs bill that the Governor will consider in his tenure that will have a greater impact on jobs and economic activity than the expansion of Medicaid,” Bryant said.