West Virginia Governor Backs Medicaid Expansion for Poor

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said for the first time that he will expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

About 91,500 low-income residents will be added to Medicaid, the Democrat told reporters today in Charleston. The governor has the power to expand the program without approval from the legislature, Amy Goodwin, a Tomblin spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

“We have weighed the options and believe expanding Medicaid is the best choice for West Virginia,” Tomblin said.

Obama has been opposed by some Republican governors over his plan to expand the federal-state Medicaid program, a key component of the Affordable Care Act’s promise to broaden medical coverage to about 27 million people by 2017. Twenty states with Republican governors, including Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi and Texas, said they won’t expand their programs, according to data as of April 16 from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research group based in Menlo Park, California.

Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C., said they support the expansion and four states had yet to make a definitive declaration of their plans, according to Kaiser.

Tomlin said the expanded Medicaid coverage will cost the state $375.5 million from 2014 through 2023, and will bring approximately $5.2 billion in federal dollars to the state during that period.

Residents and businesses would face higher insurance costs if West Virginia rejected the expansion, he said.

Hiring Consultants

Tomblin’s administration hired consultants to perform an actuarial analysis and modeling for developing a health-insurance exchange and for expanding coverage.

Maryland-based CCRC Actuaries worked with Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Michael Madalena of Pittsburgh, according to the company’s website.

About 333,000 state residents are covered under Medicaid, the governor’s press secretary, Kimberly Osborne, said in an e-mail today.

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston wrote to Tomblin on March 25 on behalf of the diocese’s 83,000 Catholics urging him to accept the expansion.

“Catholic social teaching supports adequate and affordable health care for all,” Bransfield wrote. “Our national and state health-care policy must protect human life and dignity, not threaten them, especially for the most voiceless and vulnerable.”

November Election

Tomblin, elected to a full term in November after filling an unexpired term, was the lone remaining Democratic governor to make a decision about the expansion, according to the Advisory Board Co., a research and consulting company in Washington.

Tomblin sent a letter July 19 to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying he had mixed feelings about the expansion. While it would give more residents access to medical care and potentially reduce costs by treating conditions earlier, it’s not clear the state can afford it in the long run, Tomblin wrote.

“I think we all agree the federal government’s current fiscal path is unsustainable,” the governor wrote. “Therefore, I am very cautious in relying on their future funding promises.”

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