A community is measured by how it upholds the rights of its most vulnerable members, including the right to health care. Currently, more than 300,000 people living in Virginia, a commonwealth with a sophisticated health care system and a thriving economy, are unable to receive access to routine medical care because of their inability to pay or the lack of health care services in their area.
In order to support our entire community and to ensure that everyone has access to health services in order to meet essential needs for human flourishing, all levels of society — from local communities and organizations to state and federal programs — will need to collaborate.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act empowers each state to expand access to medical care through the Medicaid program. Through Medicaid expansion, we can improve access to care and bring Virginians’ federal tax dollars back to their communities to pay for more than 90 percent of that care.
According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, each day we do not expand Medicaid we block more than $5 million of our federal tax dollars from coming to Virginia to impact our economy and care for all of our citizens. According to a December 2017 poll from Public Opinion Strategies, 83 percent of Virginia voters support “a proposal to have Virginia expand Medicaid” to cover vulnerable adults younger than 65.
This broad support across political boundaries illustrates our collective desire to meet the basic ethical mandate to care for the most vulnerable among us and to bring our federal tax dollars back to the commonwealth in order to support our communities.
Beyond the state and federal roles, nongovernmental groups must also support a basic right to health care. Bon Secours Health System, called to be good help to those in need, especially the poor and vulnerable, partners with the community in pursuit of creating access to health care for all Virginians. Our commonwealth has the resources to make this access happen, the broad-based support from voters to find a constructive way forward and the ingenuity to do it creatively and cost-effectively while also enhancing the quality of care we deliver.
The scale of magnitude of uncompensated care is important to highlight, recognizing and appreciating that other health systems and providers across the state have accepted the obligation of making investments similar to the ones made by Bon Secours. In fiscal year 2017, Bon Secours had over 110,000 visits from patients with Medicaid or no health insurance, which amounted to more than $100 million in uncompensated care. In addition, our Bon Secours Medical Group cared for more than 44,000 individuals without insurance this past fiscal year.
Federal law does not compel us to care for these individuals, as is the case in our emergency departments. We fully accept and support the moral imperative of our mission. We also know that responsible stewardship and long-term sustainability require us as a commonwealth to find ways to help us do more for our patients and communities.
We are proud of our commitment to providing health care services to anyone who needs them, but we are concerned about the financial sustainability of providing complex care for the underinsured and uninsured across the commonwealth.
We do not consider health care to be a political issue, but a basic human right. We hope elected officials will embrace the same notion, and work to ensure that all Virginians have the access to health care that Medicaid expansion will provide.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to make this transformational change for our commonwealth this year, when our legislators return for a special session on April 11. We are so close. I commend the bipartisan work by Governor Ralph Northam and Speaker Kirk Cox to include Medicaid expansion in a budget approved by the House of Delegates. I encourage Senate Republicans to follow their lead in bringing our federal tax dollars back to Virginia, and ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors are covered.
Now that the 2018 General Assembly session has adjourned, and energy can be singularly focused on the budget during the upcoming special session on April 11, I trust that the General Assembly and the governor will ultimately produce what is expected by an overwhelming majority of the people who elected them.
Expanding the Medicaid program, and ensuring that qualified individuals are able to participate, is a necessary next step in our collective effort and desire to provide health care to the entire community. Take the time to let your elected officials know how important Medicaid expansion is for the health and well-being of our citizens, and for the long-term economic viability of our commonwealth.
Ardabell is the chief executive officer of Bon Secours Virginia, the fourth largest and only faith-based health system in Virginia. Bon Secours Virginia employs more than 14,500 people, including more than 600 providers as part of Bon Secours Medical Group, in its eight hospitals in central Virginia and Hampton Roads, and more than 150 outpatient clinics throughout the commonwealth. Ardabell can be reached at email@example.com.