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Fairfax Times.com: Health Care Cuts Threaten Virginia Economy Print


Created:  Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jobs and helping to boost our economy should be everyone's number one priority right now, as we fight to recover from the worst recession in generations. Unfortunately, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's proposed plan for the state shows a different set of priorities.

The governor's proposed budget undermines the state's economy and the ability of Virginians to get the health care they need. Specifically, the governor's misguided plan would eliminate jobs in the health care sector and jeopardize health care access for low-income children, seniors and the disabled by cutting over $800 million from Medicaid over the next two years.

Instead of pursuing a balanced approach that would include new revenue instead of only cuts -- reforming costly, unproven tax loopholes for example -- Gov. McDonnell has expanded those loopholes and put a bulls-eye on health care services that have been key to Virginia's economy and quality of life for decades. More than half of the proposed cuts by Gov. McDonnell are taken from Medicaid, even though the program only accounts for about 20 percent of Virginia's budget.

As part of these cuts, Medicaid payments to Virginia's hospitals and nursing homes will be slashed, and because every dollar Virginia spends in Medicaid is matched by a dollar in federal support, the impact is doubled.

Ten percent of Virginia's workforce is employed by the health care industry, and many of these jobs will be at risk when hospitals and nursing homes receive significantly less in payments for Medicaid services. With this economic strain, health care facilities in Virginia could choose to forego buying new equipment or reduce medical and staff positions. This is like getting hit with a devastating one-two punch: hurting our economy and reducing the quality of care for patients while also making that care harder to get.

There's no doubt that Medicaid spending has increased in Virginia, but it's not because the services or coverage are extravagant. In fact it's the opposite: despite our state being one of the wealthiest in the nation, our Medicaid in Virginia is one of the worst in terms of offering patients only the bare minimum required by federal law.

Increases in Medicaid spending are a result of two factors. First, the rising price of health care and long-term care has driven cost up. And second more Virginians have enrolled in Medicaid because they lost employer-provided coverage when they lost their jobs in the economic downturn.

Gov. McDonnell also wants to make it harder for seniors to receive help with long-term care costs. Because of reduced eligibility for Medicaid long-term care, up to 4,500 seniors and disabled Virginians will lose long-term care beginning in January 2014.

Finally, the governor's proposal will hurt Virginia's community health centers, free clinics, and other service providers like the Virginia Health Care Foundation by cutting their funding in half. Beyond costing local communities valuable jobs, these unprecedented cuts would weaken Virginia's health care system at a time when need is increasing.

Virginians want their leaders to focus on creating jobs, but the governor's proposal will both undermine that aim and make it harder for people to get the health care they desperately need and that is an investment in creating the workforce Virginia needs to compete in today's global economy.

Delegate Patrick A. Hope represents the 47th district of Virginia, which includes parts of Arlington.