CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a letter to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, the chairmen of the West Virginia Legislature's health committees warn of "terrible consequences to our state" if the federal government slashes the state's Medicaid funding.
"Not only would it be devastating to our families, it would also be devastating to our economy and totally detrimental to any hope of job creation in West Virginia," wrote Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, and House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne.
Medicaid pays for the health care of more than one in five West Virginians, including three of every four nursing home beds.
A budget approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in April would cut 40 percent of West Virginia's Medicaid dollars, a loss of more than $15 billion, over the next 10 years, according to health-care consumer group Families USA.
Under that proposal, West Virginia would lose more than 10,000 health-care jobs over the next ten years, according to the Families USA analysis. About 116,000 state residents work in health care and associated fields, according to Workforce West Virginia.
Manchin repeatedly has said he could support "flexible" block-granting and reduction of Medicaid. But in a statement Tuesday, he said he opposes the House Medicaid plan, which he called "draconian."
"Like all West Virginians, I believe that taking care of the truly sick and poor is critically important," Manchin said.
Last week, Manchin questioned Medicaid care for healthy people. "I do not believe that the federal government should mandate that any state should have to take care of a healthy poor person the way those states have the moral obligation to take care of a sick poor person," he said.
About half the 405,000 West Virginians who receive Medicaid-funded health care are children, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. Another 141,000 are elderly, blind or disabled.
Stollings, who is a physician, said if the state is to get a grip on its soaring chronic disease costs, "we have to keep our citizens healthy." The new health-reform law expands Medicaid eligibility, he noted.
Manchin said he favors Medicaid proposals that give states flexibility. "Make no mistake, giving states the flexibility to tailor services to their own people can improve the effectiveness of vital programs, wipe out tens of billions in waste, fraud and abuse and protect services for the truly needy," he said in a statement provided by his staff.
Perdue said Tuesday that "flexibility" can be a code word for taking funding away from the states and loosening requirements that people be covered. "If I jump off a cliff," he said, "I'll be really flexible all the way down."