Virginia is feeling the consequences of not closing the health coverage gap. While neighboring states such as West Virginia and Kentucky are making big progress, 746,000 Virginians still lack health insurance, which means they can’t get the care they need to go to work, take care of their kids, and be healthy, productive members of their community, according to 2015 Census data released today. If Virginia had seen as large a drop in uninsured residents as in the typical state that expanded Medicaid, there would be 170,000 fewer Virginians without health insurance.
Although Virginia is not keeping up with its neighboring states that have expanded Medicaid, the state does have 244,000 fewer uninsured residents than in 2013, the last year before the major coverage expansions of the Affordable Care Act. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians have gained coverage through the health insurance marketplace, which allows people to easily compare prices and benefits of health care plans and provides subsidies to help moderate-income families and individuals afford coverage.Those subsidies, however, are not available to lower-income families and individuals. That’s because the Affordable Care Act included an expansion of Medicaid to provide comprehensive, low-cost coverage for the most vulnerable families. And many low-wage workers have no other option, since they are less likely than higher-wage workers to be offered insurance by their employers. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 made that expansion optional, and the refusal so far by Virginia legislators to draw down federal funds to expand Medicaid continues to leave 230,000 Virginians in the coverage gap.In addition to getting more Virginians health care and catching up with neighbor states, closing the gap beginning July 1, 2017 in a way that results in no long-term costs to the state would also help solve Virginia’s current budget shortfall. Drawing down billions in available federal funds would reduce state costs for health care for currently uninsured Virginia residents and increase state revenue.
Today’s Census data on the number of Virginians who remain without any health insurance are a stark reminder of the costs of failing to close the coverage gap. Closing this gap would be good for all of us.