CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Religious, community, labor, medical and political leaders gathered at Christ Church United Methodist in Charleston Sunday afternoon to urge Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to expand Medicaid coverage in the state.
Expanded coverage would include an additional 120,000 West Virginians in families earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, a monetary amount that varies by family size.
The expansion would also bring an additional $500 million in federal funds to West Virginia, as well as 6,200 new jobs, according to Perry Bryant and other supporters.
Bryant, who heads West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVAHC), said current standards require a family of three to make less than $6,000 a year to qualify for Medicaid.
"The federal government will pay virtually all the cost of the Medicaid expansion. For the first three years, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the expansion," stated a leaflet distributed on Sunday by WVAHC.
"After that, the federal share gradually decreases, but never drops below 90 percent."
If Tomblin decides to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Health Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, it would begin covering West Virginia families of three earning about $26,600 a year. Tomblin is expected to make a decision sometime in the next three weeks.
The June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Health Care Act gave states the right to decide whether to expand Medicaid coverage. More than 20 states have already approved the expansion.
The Rev. Randy Flanagan, Christ Church's pastor who moderated Sunday's gathering, said, "Better health care promotes physical, social, mental and spiritual well-being."
The Rev. Jeffrey S. Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, said, "In 2010, 223 people in West Virginia died from the lack of health insurance. This expansion will bring healthier families and 6,200 new jobs."
Late last month, Bishop Michael J. Bransfeld, leader of West Virginia's Roman Catholic Church, wrote to Tomblin, urging him to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income state residents.
Today, about 18 percent of West Virginians depend on Medicaid, even though the state currently has some of the nation's most restrictive eligibility standards for Medicaid.