Former McDonnell administration officials back private substitute for Medicaid expansion

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A group of former McDonnell administration officials on Wednesday joined a chorus of business leaders urging the adoption of a “market-based” program to expand health-care coverage in Virginia.

A letter from Jim Cheng, James D. Duffey Jr. and Cynthia Romero addressed to Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw and House Speaker Bill Howell is the second released by A Healthy Virginia Works, a coalition of business groups supporting a private insurance alternative for Medicaid expansion.

The first letter, signed by a group of prominent Virginia business and civic leaders, was released Friday. The coalition believes more letters are likely  as a variety of business leaders try to show that support for a private option extends beyond a few organizations.

The coalition includes the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and a number of local chambers statewide. A similar group of business organizations, led by the Virginia Chamber, recently endorsed a private health insurance plan that could be used to expand coverage to Virginians who would be eligible for an expanded  state Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The Democratically controlled Virginia Senate has made Medicaid expansion using a private insurance plan proposed by Republican state Sen. John Watkins a part of its budget proposal. The expansion would largely be financed with federal funds.

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates has rejected any type of Medicaid expansion, fearing that  the federal government wlll not meet its funding obligations, leaving the state with a bloated, inefficient system.

The budget impasse threatens to shut down the state government if not resolved before the end of its current fiscal year.

The two letters concern the Virginians caught in the “coverage gap.” These are residents who make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid under current guidelines but do not qualify for premium subsidies using the federal health care exchange.

Medicaid expansion was part of the original ACA, but a Supreme Court decision upholding the law also let each state decide if it would expand its program. Medicaid programs are funded by state and federal dollars.

“We urge you to work together to find a way to close the coverage gap in healthcare, drawing down the federal funds that will help provide healthcare to the uninsured and also meet the needs of Virginia's business community," the former McDonnell administration officials wrote in their letter.

Under McDonnell, Cheng was secretary of commerce  and trade, Duffey was technology secretary, and Romero was health commissioner.

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