W.Va. Gov. Tomblin opts to expand Medicaid under ‘Obamacare’

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West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, has decided to expand the Medicaid program in his state under President Obama’s health care law.

Mr. Tomblin said Thursday that 91,500 residents will obtain insurance by taking advantage of the provision in the Affordable Care Act.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that states can choose whether to extend the federal-state health entitlement to those making 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

West Virginia was one of several holdouts that had not opted in or out, and the decision is sure to be controversial in a state that preferred Republican nominee Mitt Romney over Mr. Obama by a vast margin in November.

“A decision to expand today, however, does not end our efforts,” Mr. Tomblin said.”We must carefully watch federal efforts. If the program becomes unsustainable, particularly after three years, or the federal government changes its promised funding allocations, we must be prepared to take action to protect our state.”

Other, mostly Republican-led states like Arizona have installed similar “circuit breakers” that would scale back their participation in the expansion if the federal government does not live up to its promise to fund 100 percent of the expansion in 2014-2016 before scaling back its contribution to 90 percent by 2020.

Both U.S. senators from West Virginia offered praise on Thursday for the governor’s decision.

“One out of every four West Virginians — not strangers, but the men, women and children we know from the playground, church, or the grocery store — still do not have health insurance,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, also a Democrat, said he “will do everything I can at the federal level to make sure [Mr. Tomblin] 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.”

Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks states’ decisions on health care reform, says Kansas, Kentucky and South Dakota are the only states that have not decided whether to expand Medicaid.

The nonpartisan health policy group says 27 states and the District of Columbia support the expansion, while 20 oppose it.

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