Who do you know who doesn't have health insurance? If you're like us -- and indeed, like most West Virginians and Americans -- the answer varies. It could be your sister, uncle, or the person who serves your meal at your favorite restaurant.
The health-care law known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes important advances to provide millions of Americans with high-quality and affordable health care. But the Supreme Court decision upholding the health-care law allows states to decide whether or not to expand coverage through the Medicaid program. If West Virginia implements this expansion, it will dramatically reduce the number of uninsured West Virginians, garner an extraordinary amount of federal support and ensure a smarter use of West Virginia's health-care dollars.
This important decision rests with Gov. Tomblin.
As advocates for women's health and safety, we understand that women have much to gain. Under the new health-care law, more than 67,000 women in West Virginia who are currently uninsured could have affordable health insurance starting next year. This is because the law includes money for each state to cover more people through Medicaid. When combined with other reforms in the ACA, this expansion would reduce the number of women without insurance in West Virginia from 19.8 percent to 2.5 percent. Hardworking families in West Virginia need the security of quality health coverage to get the care they require.
Of course, our state budget is strained. That's why this opportunity to expand coverage through Medicaid is so important. The federal government will pay 100 percent of these costs for the first three years, and at least 90 percent of the costs after that. Governors and state legislators across the country -- across the political spectrum -- have done the math and come to the same conclusion: It's too good a deal to turn down.
By providing affordable health insurance, Medicaid plays an important role in improving low-income women's economic security. At the same time, Medicaid supports millions of jobs that women hold across the country. In West Virginia, Medicaid currently supports roughly 21,779 health sector jobs held by women.
Women covered through Medicaid will receive a comprehensive set of health benefits, such as mammograms, preventive health screenings, and treatment for chronic conditions. In addition, women and their families will enjoy greater economic security. Think about it. People with Medicaid coverage are less likely to ignore other bills or borrow money to pay medical expenses than people without health coverage. When women have health insurance, the entire family can better manage its health. For example, children can get their asthma medications, and moms can manage their high blood pressure.
All new health insurance plans and Medicare must provide preventive benefits with first dollar coverage. That means no co-payments or deductibles for preventive benefits such as mammograms, pap tests or screenings for osteoporosis, sexually transmitted disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Women in their reproductive years will be happy to know that all Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved contraceptives must be covered without co-payments or deductibles. Domestic violence screening and counseling is covered. Breastfeeding support and counseling from trained providers and breastfeeding supplies are also included.
Health coverage for women and families is an effective, forward-thinking use of health-care dollars. Currently, West Virginians are paying to treat uninsured people in emergency rooms through the higher rates hospitals and clinics must charge people with health coverage to cover costs incurred by those without it. This cost-shifting creates a "hidden tax" that all of us pay, amounting to an additional $1,100 per family, on average, in health-care premiums. That's why expanding coverage through Medicaid, with unprecedented federal money, is simply a smarter use of our health-care dollars.
West Virginia should seize this opportunity to provide comprehensive insurance coverage that helps people get appropriate treatment before they get too sick, and diverts people from high-cost emergency rooms toward more cost-effective care.
We urge our governor to take this wise investment opportunity to grow our economy while helping hardworking women and their families get health coverage. Expanding coverage through Medicaid is a sensible approach to provide health coverage for the all-too-many uninsured in West Virginia. The numbers show it is a good deal for West Virginia and a smart use of health-care funds. Leaving millions of federal dollars on the table is simply something we cannot afford to ignore. We hope Gov. Tomblin decides to take us forward with this tremendous opportunity.
Chapman Pomponio is executive director of WV FREE, a women's health advocacy organization, and Julian is team coordinator at West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.