The Half Sheet: Virginia’s Dismal Performance

Virginia turned in a dismal performance on reducing the number of uninsured residents in 2014 because state lawmakers have refused to close the coverage gap and help people who can’t otherwise afford health insurance. Meanwhile, neighboring states – like Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland – are out in front seeing historic gains in coverage that help their residents get the care they need to go to work, take care of their kids, and be healthy, productive members of their community.

Virginia had 107,000 fewer uninsured people in 2014, according to official data on health insurance rates released today by the Census Bureau. That’s a small drop – just 11 percent – from 2013, and it would have been much larger had the state closed the coverage gap. States that have done so had much higher reductions in the share of people without insurance. Kentucky saw a drop of 41 percent. West Virginia saw a drop of 39 percent. And Maryland saw their uninsured drop rate by 22 percent.

The reason this matters is that insurance – public or private – is the first step to getting access to quality, affordable health care. And that level of care can provide much needed economic stability to people working hard to make ends meet.

Still, while Virginia hasn’t closed the coverage gap, other provisions of the Affordable Care Act are boosting the number of people with health insurance, which is a major reason Virginia had even a modest increase in the number of people with health care. Hundreds of thousands of people have gained coverage through the new federal health insurance marketplace, which allows people to easily compare prices and benefits of health care plans.

But the marketplace was never intended to help people with very low incomes. Some people who don’t make enough to afford private insurance receive federal subsidies to help them pay their premiums and reduce their out-of-pocket health costs, but a family of three who makes less than about $20,000 a year doesn’t qualify for this help because state lawmakers haven’t closed the coverage gap.

That’s not a problem with the law, it’s a problem with Virginia’s lawmakers, who have left 195,000 uninsured Virginians in the coverage gap and $230 million in state savings on the table. Those savings along with the new coverage could have gone towards building a stronger economy and safer communities. Instead, low-income Virginians continue to go without while their neighbors in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland – and 27 other states plus D.C. – can get the health care they need to stay healthy and productive.

It’s not too late for Virginia to close the coverage gap and help make people’s lives better while saving the state money and boosting the economy.

– Michael J. Cassidy, President & CEO

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis