At a trio of locations — the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce in Norfolk, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center in Chesapeake, one of just four independent hospitals in the state, and the Chesapeake Community Health Clinic, part of the Southeastern Virginia Health System that provides care to the uninsured — McAuliffe's message remained consistent. "Expanding Medicaid and closing the 'coverage gap' not only makes moral and social sense, it makes business sense," he said repeatedly. "I want our money back."
Expanding Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, he said, would provide health coverage to almost 400,000 Virginians, including 25,000 veterans and their families, create 30,000 jobs, and bring $20 billion paid in taxes by Virginians for the Affordable Care Act back to the state over the next eight years. It would save the state's hospitals, create a healthier workforce and establish a more business-friendly climate.
To date, he added, Virginia has given up almost half a billion dollars in federal funds, while 26 other states and Washington, D.C., have received similar amounts through expanded Medicaid.
"Someone has to pay for the 400,000 people still going to the emergency room. Businesses will have higher premiums," he said. At the clinic, he described the Republicans' refusal to bring the money back and help people who needed the care as "mean-spirited." "We can bring this money back. It's already paid," he repeated.
Not one person all day raised an objection to the governor's proposal to expand the health program for low-income people using 100 percent federal funds for the next two years. The governor described his proposed two-year pilot program as "no risk," assuring that he had the go-ahead from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that Virginia could withdraw.
Michael Dudley, president of Sentara Optima Health Plan and chair of the chamber's board, expressed support for the Senate's Marketplace Virginia plan. "It's a good step in the right direction. It would work well in Virginia, it's oriented to its strengths," he said.
The governor said House Republicans, who have banded solidly together to block Medicaid expansion, didn't have an alternative plan to close the coverage gap and had given no consideration to his budget, though it included raises across the board for state employees, money for pre-K education, and more, with savings from expanded Medicaid.
Messages left for Chesapeake Republican Dels. Chris Jones and Jay Leftwich were not returned.
Salasky can be reached by phone at 757-247-4784.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun