VERONA -- A pair of area state legislators told Augusta County Republicans on Monday that significant reforms are needed before Virginia expands its Medicaid program, and one suggested that the newly eligible Medicaid population could better be served by free clinics and community health centers.
Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, and Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, offered their thoughts on the possible expansion of the federal-state health insurance program. Hanger serves as the chairman of Virginia's Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission and Landes is the vice chairman. The commission of 10 Virginia legislators will make a decision on the expansion of the program in the state either late this year or it could happen during the 2014 General Assembly, Hanger said.
The expansion of Medicaid by individual states was made possible by the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, and the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court last year upholding the law. Landes said 25 states -- including Virginia -- have not made a decision on Medicaid expansion.
Landes said he opposes the expansion of the program for economic reasons. He said Medicaid already costs Virginia $7 billion a year. He said federal funding for the expansion could dry up. He spoke of the $17 trillion federal debt. "They must deal with entitlements and Medicaid is an entitlement program. They can't sustain the funding long-term,'' Landes said of Congress.
While as many as 400,000 Virginians could be added to a Medicaid expansion, Landes said Virginia would be faced with several dilemmas should it expand the program and federal funding dries up. He said Virginia might have to cut services to the newly eligible Medicaid recipients, raise taxes or cut other services such as education or public safety.
"We can reform health care,'' said Landes, who said he believes the population who would be served by a Medicaid expansion can be served by free clinics or community health centers.
Hanger said the commission has a chance to reform a system that "is badly in need of reform." Hanger said he has not made a definite decision about Medicaid expansion, but said he would consider an expansion if reforms can be made. The senator said if the program was expanded in Virginia, the state would be eligible for $2 billion in federal funds.
Hanger said the reforms in the program need to come from the states, not Washington. "I'm not opposed to reform. That is what we are working on," Hanger said.
He said the changes that need to be addressed include providing more market-based information to consumers such as the cost of services at different hospitals.
The Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission will hold a public hearing in Richmond today regarding state Medicaid expansion.
Landes and Hanger were invited to talk to Augusta County Republicans Monday about their role on the commission and to have Republicans
ask questions, said Bill Shirley, chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee.