Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Editorial: Uninsured shouldn't be political pawns
Lt. Gov. Bolling and Attorney General Cuccinelli are pushing the state to make a bad decision.
From the RoundTable blog
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Faced with a decision on whether to expand Medicaid to cover 400,000 uninsured Virginians, Gov. Bob McDonnell's response has been less than riveting TV.
He's furrowed his brow. He's expressed concern about the cost of the health insurance program. He's penned 30 sternly worded questions seeking details on the expansion and sent them to federal officials for a response.
In short, he's stalling. McDonnell hopes Republican presidential candidate Mitt Rommey will be elected in November and repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the amplified Medicaid program. But McDonnell knows that he may be around for Season Two of the Obama administration, so he's avoided rhetoric he might have to swallow.
The two Republicans hoping to succeed McDonnell have less motivation to self-regulate. There are guest slots available on cable news talk shows, and the GOP nomination for governor dangles tantalizingly in 2013.
Thus, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have fallen over each other in a rush to condemn the Medicaid expansion as a pestilence visited upon the nation by "Obamacare." The fact that both men want Virginia to opt out of the program now is intriguing, since it implies that the Republicans believe Obama will win another four-year term, or, alternatively, that they doubt Romney will fulfill his promise to ditch the health care initiative.
The next governor of Virginia will take office in January 2014. Many key decisions about Virginia's role in health care reform will need to be made by then. It's true that the next executive may attempt to roll back or retract some of those decisions, and thus it's important for voters to know where candidates stand. However, it is dangerous to allow candidates in the heat of political competition to bully state officials into making bad decisions that Virginia will regret later. That's why it's especially concerning that Cuccinelli is calling legislators in an effort to frighten them into a premature rejection of a broader Medicaid program.
Medicaid now serves 858,000 Virignians, primarily children and nursing home residents. Obama proposes to open the program to low-income adults without access to regular medical care. If they remain uninsured, the cost of their care will continue to be subsidized by taxpayers and those with private insurance. If they are added to Medicaid, the federal government would pay the full cost for three years, amounting to billions of dollars available to Virginia. After that, Virginia would be expected to pick up a share, not to exceed 10 percent.
McDonnell argues that the existing program is flawed, and that growing Medicaid will only exacerbate the problems. But Virginia can more effectively make the case for reform if it remains a full participant. Despite all of the chest-beating by Bolling and Cuccinelli, this is a decision that McDonnell and incumbent lawmakers must make, and it's one that all Virginians will live with for many years to come.