CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State officials could nearly cut in half the number of uninsured veterans in West Virginia by expanding Medicaid coverage to those who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, according to a study released earlier this week.
West Virginia has an estimated 11,300 uninsured veterans. Expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would mean that 5,300 of them would get medical coverage, according to the report from the Urban Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Another 2,600 uninsured military spouses in the state would also be covered under Medicaid expansion, according to the study.
"We owe these people who have served our country the protection to make sure they get the coverage they deserve," said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
Very few of the state's uninsured veterans are likely to qualify for Medicaid already, Bryant said. West Virginia's current Medicaid eligibility standards are some of the strictest in the country, Bryant said.
According to those guidelines, only parents who make below 35 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for Medicaid coverage.
If Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin were to expand coverage, it would cover those who make up to about $26,300 for a family of three. Tomblin has yet to decide whether the state will expand Medicaid coverage. He is awaiting the results of an actuarial study about the costs of expansion.
Under the ACA, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion for the first three years. After that, the federal match would gradually drop to 90 percent.
Bryant, who served in the U.S. Army for two years, said that while his sacrifice to his country wasn't as much as others, veterans deserve better than they're getting.
"We have this debt [to veterans] and it's not being met," Bryant said. "It's one of the added benefits of expanding Medicaid and I hope that Tomblin will make the right decision in the near future."
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.