Every session of the General Assembly certain themes rise to the surface. As we near the half-way point of the 2014 Session, it is clear that one of this year’s themes is whether Virginia will accept billions of dollars in federal funds to close the health coverage gap. Not accepting these funds forces 400,000 Virginians to go without insurance because they earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
The coverage gap is not an unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the Federal Government anticipated it by creating a mechanism to close the coverage deficit by expanding Medicaid to cover those that found themselves in this gap at the Federal Government’s expense.
Right now, the Virginia Senate is working on developing a Virginia-specific solution to remedy this situation. My colleagues in the House of Delegates, however, are holding firm that they will not accept any federal funds to close the gap, which they call a Medicaid Expansion, until they have satisfied themselves that we have reformed the way Medicaid funds are accounted for and spent in the Commonwealth.
In the meantime, tens of thousands of veterans, children and families of the working poor languish without health care coverage. This forces them to seek their primary care in emergency rooms, or put off treatment of what should be manageable conditions until they manifest themselves as very expensive complications.
Working families in Virginia need and deserve access to affordable health care coverage. Because I feel so strongly about this issue, I made it the subject of my first speech on the floor of the House of Delegates, clearly outlining the business case for closing the coverage gap.
As many of you may know, several partners and I started a Title Company six years ago this month. We started our company at a time when many of our competitors were downsizing or going out of business completely. As a result, we had the opportunity to hire some of the best talent available, whether we offered benefits or not. We made a conscious decision to offer our employees a generous health care benefit from the very beginning. We did this, not because we needed it to attract talent or because we are overly benevolent employers. We did it because it is good business.
It is good business because workers with health insurance are better employees. They don’t call in sick as often, because they have access to good primary care. They tend to be healthier, happier and therefore more productive. Workers with health insurance take their sick children to the doctor rather than sending them to school or day care with a fever and a dose of Tylenol hoping that it turns out to be nothing.
Those workers are therefore able to focus on their jobs and be productive when they are on the clock. The Virginians that fall through the coverage gap are often from working families. After all, the reason they don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage is because they earn too much money. They work, but not enough, or at too low a wage to be able to afford health care coverage, even under the Affordable Care Act. All Virginians will benefit from the healthier, more productive workforce that will result from closing the coverage gap. That’s one of the reasons I support doing whatever is necessary to close the gap as a Virginia business owner as well as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. The General Assembly should champion closing the coverage gap and continue Virginia’s tradition of being one of the best places to live and work.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov