Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin expanded West Virginians' access to affordable, essential health coverage with his decision to join 25 other governors in supporting the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in their states.
Medicaid expansion in the Mountain State will provide access to health-care coverage for people who desperately need it, and will also infuse the state's economy with hundreds of millions of dollars.
Every day, thousands of hardworking West Virginians paying their fair share struggle to make ends meet. In many cases, they are working in jobs without health benefits. This issue of access to health coverage is particularly critical for those who are over age 50 and not yet eligible for Medicare, which provides health coverage at age 65.
When people between 50 and 64 lose their jobs, they are likely to be out of work longer than others. Being uninsured at middle age means facing the possible onset of chronic conditions without necessary treatments -- leading inevitably to an increased need for the very services the individual cannot afford. Those without health insurance are likely forgoing preventive health care that can save lives and can reduce the need for expensive emergency room care, which contributes to dangerous ER overcrowding and costs that affect us all.
Providing these men, women and families with the opportunity to get affordable health coverage by expanding Medicaid will change that bleak picture. In West Virginia alone, more than 21,000 residents ages 50 to 64 could qualify for health coverage under this expansion.
There is no cost to the state for the first three years, and West Virginia will pay no more than 10 percent of the total cost of this expansion in the future.
West Virginians deserve the same access to affordable health care as people living in neighboring states, such as Ohio and Maryland, where state leaders also have opted to be part of the federal Medicaid expansion. Thanks to Gov. Tomblin's leadership, more than 120,000 uninsured West Virginians will now have access to health-care coverage under this plan.
On behalf of our 300,000 members across the state, AARP West Virginia applauds Gov. Tomblin's decision to expand Medicaid because it is good for West Virginians. Access to affordable health care should not depend on where you live.
Miller is the state director of AARP in West Virginia.