CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One advocate called Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's decision to expand Medicaid the "biggest victory for low-income working families in decades."
"If this all goes well, it will save lives, reduce health-care costs and increase productivity so people can spend their money on other things instead of barely getting by," said Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. "It's a great opportunity for the state of West Virginia."
Tomblin on Thursday announced his intentions to expand Medicaid coverage to those who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. All states have the option to do so under the Affordable Care Act.
Several proponents of expansion in West Virginia say it will greatly help families who struggle to make ends meet, while critics like state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey argue that the state could eventually be stuck with a hefty tab.
Boettner said expansion is a very fiscally prudent thing to do.
"It's going to save hospitals a tremendous amount of money," Boettner said. "It's going to save the people of West Virginia a tremendous amount of money.
"Everybody deserves health care and this is an opportunity to give health care to people who aren't getting it from the private sector," he said.
According to an actuarial study commissioned by Tomblin's office, by 2018, 91,500 state residents will be enrolled in Medicaid under expansion. A family of four that makes up to $32,499 will be eligible for Medicaid.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he appreciates Tomblin's thorough evaluation of what Medicaid expansion will mean to the state.
"I respect and support his decision to go ahead with expansion in a way that is tailored to West Virginia," Manchin said in a written statement Thursday. "I will do everything I can at the federal level to make sure he has all the flexibility he needs to make this program work in a fiscally-responsible way for the benefit of the West Virginians it is intended to help."
Stephen Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, said nothing would benefit poor children and families like Medicaid expansion.
"There has been a lot of talk about child poverty in the state in the last six months and nothing compares to this announcement," Smith said. "When parents get coverage and they don't have to worry about going bankrupt because of bills and they don't have to worry about whether they can afford to go to the doctor when they're sick, it makes such a huge difference on the health and the well-being of the whole family."
The West Virginia Hospital Association also praised the governor's decision.