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Hearing on Medicaid planned

RICHMOND—State lawmakers evaluating whether to expand Medicaid eligibility plan to hold a public hearing in late September or early October. 

The Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission also plans to have a way for people to post comments to its website by Sept. 1, said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R–Augusta.

Talk of public-comment options came at the end of the commission’s lengthy second meeting, held in Richmond Monday.

The group was created by the General Assembly earlier this year to evaluate the state’s options for getting federal permission for Medicaid reforms, a precursor to any decision about expanding eligibility for the Medicaid program, lawmakers say.

The Medicaid expansion was part of the federal Affordable Care Act, but the Supreme Court’s decision on that law last year said Medicaid expansion was optional for states. Virginia has thus far opted not to expand eligibility to cover people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as Republican leaders are concerned that the federal government won’t be able to pay for the costs for the expansion, as it has promised to do.

Many Democrats favor the expansion, as it would provide health coverage for up to 400,000 uninsured Virginians. And so do some Republicans, but they also want to see reforms to the program first.

State Secretary of Health William Hazel told the commission Monday that the state is seeing progress with some reforms it wants to make, like streamlining coverage for those dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare, and revamping its eligibility and enrollment systems under ACA requirements. It hasn’t yet started other reforms, like creating a benefit package that more closely mirrors commercial insurance benefits, limiting provider networks, and introducing more cost-sharing and wellness components, all of which are slated for summer of next year.

Lawmakers on the commission also heard comments about the potential price tag to Virginia for ACA-related requirements, with or without Medicaid expansion.

The state’s estimated cost over 10 years is about $137 million—it would get more than that in federal payments for Medicaid if it expands the program.

But while Scott Crawford of the Department of Medical Assistance Services delved deeper into the numbers in his presentation, he said his figures were somewhat outdated because they had been done assuming the state would expand Medicaid Jan. 1 of next year.

That date is now “no longer an operationally feasible implementation date,” Crawford said. “Those were realistic estimates in December [but] this entire table will have to be adjusted a little bit.”

He said he will rerun the numbers using expansion implementation dates of next July and January of 2015.

Opponents of the expansion held a rally, organized by Americans for Prosperity, outside the Capitol Monday before the commission meeting, with people waving signs with slogans such as “Hands off my health care” and “Stop the assault on our liberty.” Many of those opponents packed into the committee room and listened to an audio feed in another room.

Del. Steve Landes, R–Augusta, a commission member who opposes expansion, told the rally that the final decision on expansion hasn’t been made and encouraged them to keep expressing their opposition.

Hanger, who does favor expansion, said he was encouraged to see opponents paying attention to the presentations on various aspects of Medicaid.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028