In just ten months, Medicaid expansion has helped Virginia connect over 340,000 adults to health coverage – including about 110,000 parents. Because of the well-known Medicaid “welcome mat” effect, so far about 25,000 Virginia children came in the door to coverage along with their parents. Most of these children were likely eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program prior to expansion but were unenrolled until their parents got coverage and realized they could sign up their kids as well. Virginia didn’t extend affordable health coverage through Medicaid expansion until the start of 2019, but the huge numbers of parents and children quickly gaining coverage show that Virginians have embraced the new Medicaid option wholeheartedly to fill a need for families.
And this coverage is changing lives. A recent survey of Virginians who have gained affordable coverage through the expansion reported that 66% of the people surveyed had trouble paying medical bills in the year before they enrolled in Medicaid. And in that year before they enrolled, 62% of people reported they needed medical care they didn’t receive – primarily because of costs. That changed in 2019.
Underlying the years of political debate, clear desire of hundreds of thousands of residents to sign up for affordable coverage, and these surveys and statistics are the human stories starting to be told in the state. One mother, a medical aide in the Williamsburg area, suffered from debilitating migraines but could never get effective treatment. With the ability to see doctors and afford medications thanks to her new Medicaid coverage she was able to get treatment and get her condition under control. “I’m more capable, and so much happier,” she recently explained at a health care event.
The Roman historian Tacitus said way back in 97 AD that “it is the singularly unfair peculiarity of war that the credit of success is claimed by all, while a disaster is attributed to one alone.” Or more colloquially, “Success has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan.” Maybe Medicaid’s huge success is why even many Republican candidates in Virginia’s legislative races earlier this month suddenly shifted their tune and began to support Medicaid expansion. Voters looked more deeply however. In these particular four tight races, the Democrats still won as well as capturing the Virginia House and Senate by running on health care.
Making health care more affordable for everyone means policy change but also very hard work by those in the states charged with making sure families sign up and get the coverage they need. Virginia is clearly exceeding in both those categories. And the most important measure of success isn’t found in the statistics or at the ballot box. It’s found in the stories of how ordinary hardworking people have had profound and fundamental change happen in their lives because now they can afford decent health care. And that’s something all Virginians – and all Americans – should be very proud of.