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Advocates: Medicaid Changes Could Hurt VA Children's Health Care

Shifting Medicaid costs from the federal government to states like Virginia, where the budget is already tight, could mean fewer children are covered. (David Ragusa/Barn Images)
Shifting Medicaid costs from the federal government to states like Virginia, where the budget is already tight, could mean fewer children are covered. (David Ragusa/Barn Images)
March 9, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- Advocates say that the changes to Medicaid that are part of the proposed Obamacare repeal would likely damage health programs for Virginia children.

One part of the GOP bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would cut the federal Medicaid budget and turn funding into fixed, per capita payments. Supporters have argued that states can do more with less, in part because those block grants would bring more flexibility.

But Margaret Nimmo Holland, executive director at Voices for Virginia's Children, said Medicaid is already lean and efficient. She said shifting costs from the feds to an already strained Virginia budget would mean fewer children covered, less generous benefits or lower payments to providers.

"It is very likely that Virginia would be faced with making some difficult decisions to cut the Medicaid program. Any of these really put children's health at risk,” Holland said. "It is very concerning that 50 years of progress in children's health could be undone so quickly."

Virginia Medicaid covers about half a million low income children and about 16,000 low income pregnant women. Medicaid programs are known for having very low overhead - typically around 3 percent in most states.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has argued that the current Medicaid system is unsustainable - that the government can't afford to guarantee health care for so many poor people.

But Holland said there has been a bipartisan consensus in Virginia that children's health is worth the investment; 19 out of 20 Virginia children now have health care coverage. And she said the care delivered through Medicaid was designed by doctors.

"The benefits are actually designed by pediatricians, so it means that lawmakers are not deciding what services kids need, pediatricians are,” Holland said. "And so any time that you start cutting the benefits, you're really jeopardizing the health of children."

Standard and Poor's has projected that if the GOP repeal becomes law, 4 million to 6 million Americans would be cut off from the Medicaid system.

More information on healthcare in Virginia is available at TheCommonwealthInstitue.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA