- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Obama administration said Thursday that Virginia would have healthier and less depressed residents, as well as a better economy, if it expanded a publicly funded health insurance program for the poor.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report saying that states that have expanded Medicaid are better off and if Virginia were to do so, an additional 179,000 residents would have health insurance coverage and 16,000 fewer would experience symptoms of depression.

The report also said Virginia will miss out on $1.24 billion in federal funding in 2016 by not expanding Medicaid. The report’s figures were provided by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit public policy group in Washington.

“By expanding their Medicaid programs, states can improve access to essential medical care, reduce financial hardship, improve their citizens’ physical and mental health, and claim billions of dollars in federal funding that could raise their citizens’ standards of living and make their economies more resilient in the future,” the report said.

Expanding Medicaid is a key part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and the federal government has pledged to pay the bulk of the costs associated with expanding the program. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court gave states the option of opting out and so far 22 states, including virtually every Southern state, have rejected Medicaid expansion.

Pro-expansion advocates, which include many in Virginia’s business community, had hoped Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 2013 election would make expansion more likely. But the GOP-controlled General Assembly has repeatedly rejected McAuliffe’s efforts, and the governor has pursued Medicaid expansion with much less enthusiasm than he did in his first six months in office.

Republicans have argued that the state’s current Medicaid expansion is already growing at an unsustainable rate and needs to be reformed.

Matthew Moran, a spokesman for GOP House Speaker William J. Howell said Republicans remain steadfastly opposed to expansion and dismissed the Obama administration’s report.

“It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that President Obama’s advisers produced a report that says good things about Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion,” Moran said.

The governor’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said McAuliffe is still committed to Medicaid expansion.

“Every day that Republicans in the General Assembly wait to work with the governor to get the best expansion deal for Virginia is another day that thousands of people go without lifesaving care and taxpayers send their hard-earned money to Washington while getting nothing in return,” Coy said.

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