- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Virginia faces a $1 billion increase in Medicaid spending through fiscal 2018, according to a two-year forecast Tuesday that state Republicans swiftly used as a cudgel against Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s bid to embrace Obamacare and expand the government health insurance program for the poor.

If the forecast is met, the $956 million rise in projected costs to the state would crowd out investments in education, GOP lawmakers warned.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, said the spending is on an “unsustainable trajectory” and there are flaws with the program’s eligibility and verification systems, so it shouldn’t be expanded to cover more Virginians.

“The volume of evidence against Medicaid expansion continues to grow,” he said.

Yet Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, has made expanding Medicaid to give more state residents health coverage a focal point of his tenure in Richmond. He’s signaled he will not give up the fight, though he faces long odds in swaying GOP lawmakers who retained full control of the General Assembly earlier this month.

The sharp increase in state costs was attributed to a recent uptick in enrollees who realized they were eligible for the program, including up to 11,000 parents of children who were already eligible for Medicaid, according to McAuliffe spokeswoman Christina Nuckols.

She said opponents of expansion argued it would bring people out of the “woodwork” and flood the program, but that is happening anyway, as health care reform and the third round of annual Obamacare enrollment bring attention to coverage.

“You can’t build a wall around Virginia. People are fully aware of what’s happening nationally,” she said. “We’re experiencing that side cost, without the benefits that would come with Medicaid expansion.”

She said through expansion, federal dollars would pay for indigent care the state has to pay for, plus additional health services that the state usually has to pick up.

Thirty states, plus the District of Columbia, have expanded their programs under the Affordable Care Act to residents making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the cost of expansion through 2016, before scaling back its contribution to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

The Supreme Court made expansion optional in 2012, so some GOP-controlled states have balked, saying expansion will bust their budgets down the road.

On Capitol Hill, Virginia Republican Rep. David Brat said Monday’s estimates provided more proof of Obamacare’s fiscal unsustainability.

“It’s a good thing we don’t go down the more-government-provided health care track, because they show no ability to push the cost curve down — there’s your evidence,” Mr. Brat, who stunned then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 GOP primary, said in a brief interview. “It’s a budget-buster already. There’s no discipline being put anywhere in the system that the free market provides.”

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