Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

March 12, 2014

McAuliffe seeks support for Medicaid expansion

TAZEWELL, Va. — In an effort to gain support for Medicaid expansion in Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe met with health officials and community members in Tazewell on Tuesday at Carilion Tazewell Community Hospital. Together, along with Sen. Phillip Puckett, D- Russell, and Virginia Secretary of Health Bill Hazel, McAuliffe spoke about the need to expand Medicaid to 400,000 low-income residents.

“This is a big issue in Virginia,” McAuliffe said. “I wish other legislative representatives could be here. We can’t wait till next year.”

The General Assembly will meet again in two weeks for a special session. McAuliffe hopes the budget that includes the expansion will pass. He said the consequences of turning down the federal funds associated with the expansion would hurt rural hospitals, clinics and the local economy.

William J. (Bill) Flattery, vice president Carilion Clinic Western Region, said the hospital is at a critical junction and that time is of the essence.

“The negative operation margin is worse because of the Affordable Health Care Act. It is critical to close the coverage map,” Flattery said.

Last year, the Carilion Tazewell Community Hospital had a deficit of $1.8 million. This year, an annualized four months of data showed a deficit of $2.7 million.

He said the Affordable Health Care act promised that if hospitals took cuts in Medicare and Medicaid they would receive payments from residents who are now insured through the plan. But so far, that hasn’t happened yet.

“We have the cuts,” Flattery said. “We just don’t have the rest of the story.”

Under the new federal health care law, the federal government reimburses states that expand Medicaid eligibility for lower-income residents. However, the House voted against expanding Medicaid coverage. Republicans in the House want to reform the current program before an expansion.

Flattery said the Commonwealth is losing $5 million a day by not accepting the expansion.

McAuliffe, who also mentioned his deep Catholic faith, said this was a moral and social issue. He also said waiting could affect the lives of Virginians calling it a matter of “life or death.”

“We need to take care of these folks,” he added.

McAuliffe encouraged residents to call their senators and delegates in support of the expansion. So did Puckett.

“It is important for this group to go bat for your hospital. Support this act. There are two great concerns — the ones who don’t have coverage and the possible loss of local hospitals,” Puckett said.

The visit was part of day-long tour that included stops in Christiansburg and Blacksburg, Va.

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