Council says no to Medicaid expansion

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council won’t back a renewed effort to expand Medicaid in Virginia.

Members spent roughly two minutes discussing a request by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy to endorse a resolution of support to expand Medicaid. The consensus of council leaned toward not endorsing the resolution distributed by the Richmond-based organization to municipalities across the state.

Councilman Bret Hrbek was quick to state his position.

“I would be willing to put it up on the agenda to vote against it,” Hrbek said.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger and Councilman Eugene Tewalt echoed Hrbek.

“I don’t want to see it brought forward,” Tewalt said.

Councilman John Connolly said that information provided by the organization does not explain that federal funding goes back to the Virginia General Assembly after three years and other programs will be “on the chopping block.”

More than 400,000 Virginians do not receive coverage as a result of the state not expanding Medicaid, according to the organization. Accepting Medicaid funds would bring revenue and new jobs to municipalities across the state, the organization claims.

Information from the organization provided to council states that the number of poor people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley who would gain health insurance through closing the coverage gap could increase by 2,700 in Frederick County, 1,700 in Shenandoah County and 1,400 in Warren County.

Egger questioned the numbers as provided.

“How can those 1,400 people have no insurance because I would like to know how to do that ’cause I was forced to buy insurance that I didn’t want,” Egger asked. “How do they not have insurance because I want to be one of them.”

Town Manager Steve Burke surmised that the income level of the 1,400 people is low enough to not require that they file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service.

Karen L. Cameron, director of Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare, explained in an email Tuesday that the Affordable Care Act, per the Supreme Court’s ruling that states have discretion whether or not to expand Medicaid coverage, requires that people have health care coverage who live in households at or above 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That equates to $16,243 for an individual and $27,724 for a family of three, Cameron said.

Under Virginia’s eligibility criteria, an adult who has no children or disability or is elderly cannot get coverage regardless of how little they make, and their parents must generally make less than $10,000 annually to qualify, Cameron said. Almost 400,000 low-income Virginia residents do not receive coverage, the majority of them being workers and/or family members and more than 25,000 veterans or their families, Cameron added.

Virginia is one of 19 states that haven’t taken the federal dollars with a Medicaid expansion, Cameron said. Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky expanded coverage and their uninsured rates fall below that of Virginia’s where 9 percent of residents are not insured, Cameron said.

Newport News leaders recently adopted the resolution of support, Cameron said. The organization is working with 30 other municipalities to adopt the resolution.

Hrbek reiterated his desire at the work session to put the matter on the next council meeting agenda just to vote it down. Egger noted her support for Hrbek’s proposal.

Connolly disagreed.

“I just as soon keep it off the agenda,” Connolly said.

“It’ll get people worked up,” Egger said.

“I don’t know if we need to get our municipality involved in this debate,” Connolly said.

Council’s consensus on the matter falls in line with state Republicans who oppose and block efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Expanding Medicaid would unlock federal money that would boost hospitals. Republicans have argued that the state might not be able to afford to expand Medicare should the federal government fail to cover at least 90 percent of the cost as promised.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com