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    Coalition pushes for Medicaid expansion

    RICHMOND – State budget language adopted by the House Appropriations Committee would delay the expansion of Medicaid and other benefits of the new federal health-care law in Virginia, a statewide group said Wednesday.

    Officials with the Healthcare for All Virginians Coalition said the delay in implementing the Affordable Care Act would hurt Virginians who need better health care – and hurt the state’s economy.

    “Virginians deserve better ... They deserve quality health care,” said Julia Newton, vice president of Service Employees International Union Virginia 512, a union representing home care providers in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

    Michael Cassidy, president of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a nonprofit think tank, said the delay could cost Virginia millions of dollars. For every day the law is delayed, he said, Virginia would miss out on $5 million in federal tax money and nearly $400,000 in state budget savings.

    “Delaying [is] financially irresponsible for Virginia when you account for not only the loss of federal dollars ... state budget savings... but also the access to quality affordable health care for hundreds of thousands of hardworking Virginians across the state,” Cassidy said.

    Cassidy and Newton spoke at a press conference held Wednesday by the coalition, which includes nearly 60 organizations.

    On Sunday, the House Appropriations Committee adopted budget language that would require a long list and three phases of Medicaid reforms as a condition to expanding the federal-state program, which serves low-income individuals and families.

    Under the committee’s language, the General Assembly would have to approve the expansion after completion of the reforms. The coalition said these stipulations would delay the Medicaid expansion by at least six months – from January 2014 until July 2014.

    Karen Grizzard, who chairs of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards, said 22,000 uninsured residents would be eligible for health care with the Medicaid expansion.

    The expansion would “make necessary mental health services and primary care available to thousands of people who don’t have that care today. Any delay [would] hurt those Virginians,” Grizzard said.

    One such person is Martha Harding, who works at a minimum-wage job to help support and raise her four grandchildren. Her job doesn’t offer benefits, and like other Virginians age 55 to 64, she is too young to qualify for Medicare.

    Harding spoke at the news conference and urged state legislators to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation.

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