Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Our view: Hiding in plain sight The Roanoke Times Editorial Board

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (Me...
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (Medicaid administrator) logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
More often than not, that missing item you've turned the house upside down to find - reading glasses or car keys, for example - ends up being right in front of you.
That should be a lesson to Gov. McAuliffe and House leaders in their search for an elusive solution to the current budget stalemate.
McAuliffe wants to expand Medicaid, the government funded program providing health insurance to the indigent, to cover low-income adults.
House leaders object but have devoted all their time to nitpicking the governor's plan rather than coming up with their own.
Senators have helpfully offered a rational compromise. Marketplace Virginia would allow uninsured individuals to purchase private insurance using federal funds available from taxes already being collected on state residents and businesses. Participants would be required to share in the costs. The program offers relief to hospitals facing steep cuts under the Affordable Care Act, which rolls back charitable care assistance under the assumption that more patients will be insured.
It's a middle-ground, business-oriented idea that should be an easy decision. But instead, legislators swept into Capitol Square last week, spouted off a lot of partisan blabber then headed home, leaving the negotiating table vacant.
House leaders say they're loath to use federal dollars, which would initially pay 100 percent of costs and 90 percent in future years, out of fear that national leaders might one day renege.
But that argument makes little sense given their use of $195 million in federal funding from other parts of the Affordable Care Act to balance their own budget proposal for the current year, plus another $51 million for the new two-year spending plan they endorsed. Indeed, they rely on a total of more than $20 billion in federal funds, nearly a quarter of their entire budget plan.
McAuliffe's proposal to expand Medicaid coverage in a two-year pilot program has generated some confusion given his previous support for the Marketplace Virginia model. It's hard to determine whether he's helped or harmed the process given the reality that absolutely nothing has happened in weeks.
His proposal doesn't rule out the private-option favored by the Senate. Rather it could serve as a temporary means for Virginia to qualify for federal funding while hammering out the particulars for the private insurance model. Doing so would free up $225 million in state tax revenues, some of which could be used for mental health reforms, teacher pay, pre-kindergarten and extended school year programs, and stabilization of the state's pension fund.
But the best choice for state leaders still rests with the Marketplace Virginia approach. If House leaders can't stomach adding more people to the Medicaid rolls, despite the fact that they've added thousands of intellectually disabled individuals to the program in recent years, then they should focus on digesting the Senate proposal. Once they've decided what they like and dislike about the idea, they can hash out the details with senators who would welcome that conversation.
In January, Speaker Bill Howell penned a commentary calling for an "alternative approach" to expanding Medicaid. Nearly three months later, he has yet to offer any alternative of his own. Meanwhile, the Marketplace Virginia plan sits untouched, waiting for someone to show up at the negotiating table. Like a misplaced pair of glasses, it's in plain sight. State leaders are just pretending not to see it.
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