CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Expanding Medicaid will do more than provide coverage to 100,000 West Virginians, supporters of the federal health care overhaul argued Tuesday: It would also create 6,200 jobs while spreading $664 million through the state's economy by 2016.
The advocacy group Families USA hired Regional Economic Model Inc. to develop the estimates, and presented the findings with West Virginians For Affordable Health Care at a state Capitol press conference. The jobs number reflects those directly employed by hospitals, doctors' offices and other health care settings, but also assumes that the increased spending would spur jobs in the other sectors of the state's economy.
"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help our friends and neighbors get the health care they deserve while at the same time expanding jobs and economic activity," said Perry Bryant, executive director of the state-based advocacy group.
Expansion supporters stress that the federal overhaul will fully cover the resulting costs from 2014 to 2016, and then gradually reduce its funding share to 90 percent in 2020. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is awaiting an accounting analysis before choosing whether to expand. He's one of two Democratic governors who has yet to decide.
"There is no decision that Gov. Tomblin will make during his tenure as governor that will create more jobs or generate more economic activity than his decision to expand Medicaid," Bryant said.
Medicaid is projected to consume $900 million in state spending during the budget year that begins July 1, up from $764 million two years ago, according to state officials. As the program relies more heavily on matching federal funds than state dollars, total spending during the coming budget year is expected to reach $3.1 billion.
The overhaul calls on states to expand Medicaid starting in 2014 to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That's around $32,500 for a family of four. West Virginia now has one of the strictest eligibility policies, limiting the program to households with children at up to 35 percent of the poverty line or around $8,240 for a family of four.
As a result, half of the West Virginians on Medicaid are blind or disabled. Nearly 20 percent are children, while a slightly larger portion is seniors. But West Virginia still has the 12th-largest Medicaid program among the states when measures as a percentage of its population, with around 330,000 residents covered according to federal figures.