CHARLESTON - Medicaid is expanding in West Virginia.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was joined Thursday by U.S. Sen. Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; President and CEO of United Health System Tom Jones; and CEO of Thomas Health Systems Steve Dexter during a ceremony in Charleston to announce the expansion.
"We anticipate expansion will allow us to provide insurance coverage to approximately 91,500 working West Virginians, significantly reducing the number of uninsured," Tomblin said. "A decision to expand today, however, does not end our efforts. We must carefully watch federal efforts. If the program becomes unsustainable, particularly after three years, or the federal government changes its promised funding allocations, we must be prepared to take action to protect our state.''
Under a tent in front of St. Francis Hospital, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announces he will expand the eligibility for West Virginians to receive health care through Medicaid on Thursday in Charleston. Seated at left is U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller. (Associated Press)
The Medicaid expansion is a major piece of the national health care reform law as it will cover Americans who aren't currently eligible for Medicaid, but still can't afford to pay for private health insurance, Rockefeller said.
"One out of every four West Virginians - not strangers, but the men, women and children we know from the playground, church, or the grocery store - still do not have health insurance," he said. "Governor Tomblin has been working hard to close that gap because it affects everyone in this state in some way.
''And today I am so proud to stand with him to announce this enormous step forward. With the Governor's careful stewardship of our state budget, and the courage of his convictions, he is joining 22 other governors across the country plus the District of Columbia to help put an end to the uninsured.''
Rockefeller wanted health care reform so citizens would be able to see a doctor or nurse when they are sick in a tradditional doctor's office setting.
"Not in an expensive emergency room, but at a regular doctor's appointment, where a simple prescription or proper bandage can keep someone healthy and able to go to work or school,'' he said.
The senator went on to say that every $100 million in new federal Medicaid funding should create about 2,000 new jobs, $183 million in increased business activity and $64 million in increased wages.
''Medicaid is a lifeline for so many West Virginia families,'' Rockefeller said. ''It's affordable and efficient. It creates jobs and increases wages. Currently a quarter of West Virginians count on it.
''And by helping uninsured families get coverage, we reduce health care costs for everyone else. West Virginians deserve nothing less. Governor Tomblin's decision is based on the facts, and it's a good decision for West Virginia families."
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., made an announcement that he appreciated Tomblin's thorough evaluation of what he believes expanding Medicaid will mean to West Virginia.
''I respect and support his decision to go ahead with expansion in a way that is tailored to West Virginia,'' he said. ''I will do everything I can at the federal level to make sure he has all the flexibility he needs to make this program work in a fiscally responsible way for the benefit of the West Virginians it is intended to help."
West Virginia Republican Party officials have condemned the decision, saying Tomblin has aligned himself once again with the policies of President Barack Obama, which they claimed have continually hurt the state.
The decision was a clear endorsement of the Obamacare program.
"Today is a sad day for our health care, our families, our freedoms and the pro-life movement in this state," said West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas. "This means a massive expansion of government, but federal control in how folks here access health care at every level."
The biggest issue is costs, Lucas said, adding this plan to expand Medicaid here means the government will spend more money, on more people resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars more being spent every year.
''All those costs will be passed on to our taxpayers and employers,'' Lucas said. ''But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Insurance costs will skyrocket. Your relationship with your doctor will suffer, if you can even get in to see that physician.
"Rural states all over the South have fought this bribe and the massive future budget problems that go with it. Tomblin could have fought this odious program, like the fiscally responsible governors of more prosperous Southern states. Instead, after months of prevarication, he's doing pretty much what we predicted. Elections have consequences. And the consequences of voting for an Obama supporter like Gov. Tomblin will be millions of extra dollars taken from you to help wreck our health care system and bankrupt the state."