Over a month ago, Gov. Tomblin made one of the most important announcements of his tenure. He announced that West Virginia will expand Medicaid coverage to allow people eligible who earn up to 139 percent of the Federal poverty level (FPL). I cannot overstate the importance of this decision, which will likely impact 120,000 West Virginians directly and all of us indirectly. Most importantly, this will change the lives of the working poor who literally have no options for health insurance. I was one of the legislators who wrote to the Governor supporting the expansion.
Medicaid is a federal/state partnership offering health and long-term care insurance to more than 400,000 West Virginians, mostly children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and the elderly. Under the current eligibility rules, Medicaid mostly covers pregnant women, young children, disabled adults, elderly and the extreme poor. Working mothers without dependent children are not eligible for Medicaid unless they are disabled or over age 65. Under expansion, Medicaid will cover adults, including single adults, between the ages of 18 and 65 with incomes up to 138 percent of the FPL-about $15,900 for an individual and $32,500 for a family of four. To get a sense of what that means, someone working full-time at minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, would earn $15,080 annually.
In Jefferson County, there are nearly 2200 people who are currently uninsured, but who will be eligible for expanded Medicaid. These are people in all sorts of work like agriculture, food service and childcare. In other words, these are the people who work everyday to make our modern society function.
The expansion presents an unprecedented opportunity to give every day working people the chance to have health insurance. For many people, it will be the first time they have health insurance in their life. This will also be a boon to self-employed and underemployed people who will not receive the advantages and subsidies of the health exchanges.
But when we look at the effect of expansion, we can now see there will be a positive effect on business and economy in West Virginia. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report found that the number of self-employed people in West Virginia should rise by 6,000 after 2014 because of access to affordable health insurance. More insured people means less hospital care for uninsured patients that needs to be passed on to insured patients. The impact of more insured people in West Virginia has been estimated to lower premiums by as much as $1000 per family.
This is not the first report to suggest a positive economic impact because of Medicaid expansion. For the first three years of the expansion, the Federal government will pay for the new coverage. After three years, West Virginia will be responsible for just 10% of the coverage. The influx of federal dollars for the expansion is estimated to be more than $3.7 billion over six years. That's billion with a 'b'. This will increase the volume of health care spending within West Virginia. With more revenue, hospitals, health care companies and workers will increase their spending in West Virginia, all of which is a boost to the economy. Medicaid expansion is a win-win for us.