Beginning in October, we will have an extraordinary opportunity to offer more than 120,000 West Virginians, most of whom are the "working poor," an ability to access affordable health care. The federal government would pick up the tab for all of the Medicaid expansion the first three years, but we would be required to pay for 10 percent of it by 2020 -- a terrific deal for our cash-strapped state.
In contrast, the federal government pays for only 72 percent of the current Medicaid program in West Virginia, with the state paying the remainder of the cost.
Nationally, 25 states with a mix of Democratic and Republican governors, and the District of Columbia, have decided to participate in Medicaid expansion. It is interesting to note that several Republican governors who participated in the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act (such as those in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota and Ohio) are now seeing the political wisdom of participating. As Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott has pointed out, taxpayers in states that refuse the money end up supporting other states' efforts without reaping any benefit for their own poor residents.
Frankly, the argument of not participating because we do not want to contribute to our federal deficit rather falls apart at this point.
As a physician, I have taken an oath to care for anyone who walks through my door. I use whatever tools I have at my disposal. The same is true for our state. Regardless of our decision on this matter, West Virginia will still be responsible for the care of all of our people. We can either continue to serve these people in our emergency rooms, with uncompensated, inefficient care that raises costs for the rest of us. Or, we can sign onto Medicaid expansion -- and provide our hard-working but uninsured citizens with affordable, preventive care that keeps our economy going and reduces costs. This is especially important for rural hospitals, clinics and practitioners who will be able to receive compensation for hundreds of millions of dollars of care that now goes unfunded.
I have no doubt that Medicaid expansion is good for our state's health. Moreover, it's also good for our economy. We are a state with the second lowest median household income in the nation at $38,482. Health insurance expansion infuses billions into our state over the next several years, which will create, by some accounts, 6,200 new jobs across all sectors of our economy. It cuts taxes to business owners who would otherwise be forced to either pay the Obamacare tax for uninsured employees or pay for their health coverage. And it keeps working families working, helping them to avoid bankruptcy and catastrophic illness. By increasing jobs and economic activity in the state, Medicaid expansion will help boost our state revenue.
Amongst all states in the Union, we have perhaps been the most cautious about Medicaid expansion, and I applaud the care we have taken to gather information, explore all possible options and ensure that we do not leave our future generations to pay for our actions. However, it is time for us to make a bold decision and focus on developing an efficient, transparent, and integrated Medicaid system rather than deliberate whether 120,000 hard-working but poor West Virginians deserve to have health insurance.
It's important to remember that these people are already showing up in our emergency rooms and urgent care facilities with late stage, complex medical problems and the rest of us are picking up the tab. That's why physicians like me support Medicaid expansion. We may not have a choice about whether to serve families in need, but we do have the choice to do so in the most health-conscious and cost-effective way.Gupta is executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, a volunteer at West Virginia Health Right, a clinical assistant professor at the WVU School of Medicine and an adjunct associate professor at the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy.