By Senator Emmett Hanger
We have an opportunity as our current budget debate continues, to not just provide a convenient temporary fix for a balanced budget agreement, but at the same time lay the groundwork for our future economic growth and our ability as a Commonwealth to meet the needs of all of our citizens no matter whether they reside in Arlington or the far reaches of Appalachia.
I continue to support accessing the federal dollars available to Virginia that will allow us to provide needed health care services to our most vulnerable. While I have significant differences with some of the provisions contained in our currently debated budget, I remain willing to negotiate terms, but have no intentions of voting for a final budget that does not include a plan to access the additional dollars that are available to us currently under Medicaid. After all, those dollars came out of the pockets of Virginia taxpayers and we need to put them to use, particularly in rural Virginia.
As the current Administration and Congress seem to be struggling with whether they should be serving the people who elected them or engaging in a perpetual campaign of “right” versus “left,” we can and should do better.
While we may be scratching our heads and wondering about some of the people President Trump has chosen to surround himself with, there is a ray of sunshine and hope coming from his Director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, who said recently:
“Our nation should always give our utmost attention and care for Americans most in need. As such, we must allow states, who know the unique needs of their citizens, to design programs that don’t merely provide a Medicaid card but provide care that allows people to rise out of poverty and no longer need public assistance. As Ronald Reagan once put it, the aim of a government program for the poor should be to eliminate as far as possible, the need for its own existence.”
I want to thank Speaker Cox, Chairman Jones, and Delegate Kilgore for their leadership in getting a workable plan for Medicaid Expansion included in the House budget. I also would congratulate the Democrat members of the House for a reasoned approach in exercising the power inherent in increased numbers. Inclusion of a plan in the House budget to access the greatly needed enhanced matching federal funding is a hurdle we had not been able to clear for the past five years.
Now that the House has demonstrated that leadership, we have the opportunity to craft a broad plan that:
(1) Addresses a lack of access to health care for low income families and individuals, but can importantly create a pathway from poverty to self-sufficiency and prosperity for thousands of deserving Virginians;
(2) Sustains affordability and quality of plans for those that qualify for the Marketplace with incomes under 400% of poverty;
(3) Stabilizes insurance rates in the commercial market for average middle income Virginians and the employers who want to provide access to health care for their employees;
(4) Creates policies and directs adequate resources to transform our behavioral health delivery system from over-reliance on costly institutions to a more robust and uniformly available community-based system;
(5) Provides oversight to make certain large providers (health services & insurance companies) are regulated appropriately and that controls are in place to insure our scarce tax dollars are not wasted on those who seek to manipulate the system, whether they be healthcare providers or unqualified individuals.
Essentially we need to implement a work component that is a “hand up” approach, rather than punitive; that screens those that may be eligible; provides them needed healthcare (including mental health and substance abuse); provides them the education or skill training they might need and then matches them up with a job; and finally, does not create a disincentive for earning more money.
While we are fortunate to live in a state that is rich in heritage and benefits greatly from significant wealth within our boundaries, I feel it is incumbent on all of us to assist in making affordable and timely healthcare services available to those that often find themselves too busy dealing with the pressures of living on the fringes of poverty to even be concerned about their health until it is too late to effect a positive outcome.
From Proverbs: “Withhold not good from those that have need, when it is in the power of thy hand to do it.”
State Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) represents Virginia’s 24th Senate District made up of Madison County, Augusta County, Greene County, parts of Culpeper and Rockingham Counties, and the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro.