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Our view: Virginia needs to approve Medicaid expansion now

Our view: Virginia needs to approve Medicaid expansion now

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It’s time for the Virginia General Assembly to quit stalling and move ahead with legislation to expand Medicaid to approximately 400,000 uninsured Virginians, many of whom live in rural areas of Southwest Virginia with high unemployment.

Tennessee also needs to get on board with similar legislation, but the issue is on the verge of approval, finally, in Virginia, so the legislature needs to make it happen.

Republicans in the House of Delegates have already indicated their support, but it’s the Senate that’s still balking. The legislature is scheduled to take up the measure during its special session, which began officially on Wednesday but won’t be getting to the Medicaid issue in earnest most likely until next week.

This is a humanitarian issue that affects families with children, who have no alternative for health care other than showing up sick at hospital emergency rooms hoping to find at least some level of charity care. And for now, most of the cost of the expansion will be paid by the federal government.

The Republican idea of linking Medicaid eligibility to some form of work requirement is a prudent step that could help break the cycle of government dependence for able-bodied people who could make some kind of contribution with their labor. There are many who won’t be able to work, or even to find work, though, and they and their families should not be penalized.

House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the new House budget to be considered in the special session will include a Medicaid work requirement already approved by federal regulators for Arkansas, which would prevent people from getting Medicaid until the next annual open enrollment period if they fail to seek work in some form over a three-month period.

The Virginia legislation would require that Medicaid recipients who are able to work engage in some form of work, education and training, or public service, House Speaker Kirk Cox told the Times-Dispatch.

Now is the time to bring Virginia in line with most of the other states, which have already expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

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