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W.Va. Medicaid expansion would create 6,000 jobs, activists say

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Expanding Medicaid in West Virginia would create about 6,200 new jobs across the state in 2016, according to a study released today by the West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and Families USA.

Read the report

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, West Virginia, like other states, has the option to expand Medicaid to those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For an individual, a person could make up to $15,000 and still be eligible for the program.

If the state expands, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the expansion at first and the federal share would drop to 90 percent in the future.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has not decided whether the state will expand Medicaid. He has said he's waiting for the results of an actuarial study about the costs of the expansion. Those results are expected in March.

The economic study released Tuesday -- for which WVAHC and Families USA contracted with economic forecasting agency REMI -- estimates that in 2016 if Medicaid were expanded, $539 million would be spent on health care delivered in West Virginia.

Perry Bryant, executive director of WVAHC, said expanding Medicaid would be the single greatest thing Tomblin could do to expand the state's economy.

"It's great to have Macy's to open up a new warehouse in the Eastern Panhandle, and we're delighted that Gestamp is opening up at the Charleston Stamping & Manufacturing facility," Bryant said at a news conference Tuesday. "But all of those activities, those accomplishments, as significant as they are, don't come anywhere near the volume of jobs or the economic activity that expanding Medicaid would have."

The money generated by Medicaid expansion not only would have a direct effect on the economy by paying for health-related services but also would create jobs and earnings for others who are not associated with health care, according to the report.

For example, a hospital may spend money on facility upgrades that leads to more construction jobs. Health-care employees will spend their income at local restaurants or buying new cars, the study states.

Besides the increase in jobs, expanding Medicaid would reduce the amount of money the state spends on uncompensated care, or the money used to care for uninsured people who seek medical care and cannot pay for it.

The West Virginia Hospital Association reported that in 2009, the state's hospitals absorbed $292 million in caring for insured people whose incomes were below the poverty line. That number would be reduced if Medicaid were expanded, the state concluded.

By reducing the number of West Virginians who don't have insurance, expanding Medicaid will lower the costs passed on to those with insurance, the study states.

Bryant said the report's estimations were conservative.

Dr. Dan Doyle, a primary-care physician with Cabin Creek Health Systems, spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion at the news conference. Doyle said he constantly sees patients who need access to specialty care but cannot get it because they do not have health insurance.

Of the estimated 120,000 West Virginians that would have Medicaid if it were expanded, 10,000 are in Kanawha County and 3,000 in Fayette County, Doyle said.

He asked that Tomblin agree to Medicaid expansion.

"I feel confident that the governor is going to do the right thing here," Doyle said.

West Virginia resident Teresa Brown cannot afford health insurance now, but she would be eligible for Medicaid under the expansion. Brown's husband is a coal truck driver who makes around $1,000 every two weeks. Insurance would cost the couple nearly $2,000 a month, she said.

Her husband has skin cancer on his face and she suffers from Ménière's disease, a condition causing her to lose hearing. The medication for Ménière's disease costs around $75 a month, she said.

Brown urged Tomblin to expand Medicaid.

Her daughter and two young grandsons would also be covered under the expansion, she said.

"I am begging for the health of myself, my husband, my daughter and my two grandsons," she said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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