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Virginia Hospitals Lobbying For Medicaid Expansion

Hospitals in Virginia are warning state lawmakers that they'll be in big financial trouble if the legislature does not expand Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act set out to provide health care coverage for almost everyone. The bill promised affordable health insurance, and for those who made too little money, states were supposed to expand their Medicaid programs, and the federal government would pick up the tab.

"Right now the uninsured come into Virginia hospitals every single day and get care in the emergency department," says Katherine Webb, senior vice president for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, which represents 105 hospitals. She says the Affordable Care Act assumed those medical centers would save big bucks with Medicaid covering low-income adults.

"These are folks that work, by and large. They are waitresses, they are bus drivers, they are other kinds of retail employment, and they make under 138 percent of the poverty level. They're making $12,000 a year," she says.

Since hospitals would be spared that expense, authors of the Affordable Care Act figured the feds could stop making supplemental payments to medical centers caring for poor patients and could scale back on Medicare reimbursement.

But if Medicaid isn't expanded, Webb says that Virginia hospitals will lose millions of federal dollars each year and will still be forced to care for uninsured patients, so they're lobbying like crazy.

"And we have a pretty broad coalition of business group including the state chambers and some local chambers, other health care providers and patient advocates, and we've been spending a fair amount of time educating delegates and senators about the economic impact for Virginia," she says.

Behind the scenes, she says, the Virginia Department of Health is preparing for a possible expansion, hoping to be ready if the legislature gives the go-ahead.

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