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W.Va. ranks sixth nationally in state Medicaid population


The Weirton Daily Times

WHEELING, W.Va.  —  Only six states have a higher percentage of residents on Medicaid than West Virginia, according to a national nonprofit health policy group.

More than 554,000 Mountain State residents — more than three of every 10 — are enrolled in the program, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s well above the national average of 23.4 percent — meaning a potential repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act under which West Virginia’s Medicaid program was expanded could have a disproportionate impact on the state’s residents.

The percentage of West Virginians on Medicaid comes as little surprise to incoming state Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Wheeling.

“What it says about our state is we have the lowest workforce participation rate in the country and the highest number of people on welfare,” Ferns said. “Over half our population is receiving financial assistance, and that is not sustainable.”

New Mexico has the nation’s highest percentage of residents covered by Medicaid, at 40.4 percent. Next is Arkansas, at 39.6 percent, followed by California, 34 percent; New York, 33.7 percent; Vermont, 33.2 percent; Louisiana, 31.2 percent; and West Virginia, 30.2 percent. Rounding out the top 10 are Massachusetts, at 29.9 percent; Kentucky, at 28.9 percent; and Oregon, at 27.2 percent.

The District of Columbia also has a higher rate than West Virginia, with 36.6 percent of residents enrolled in the program.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government currently is paying 95 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion. But if the GOP-led Congress is successful in repealing the Affordable Care Act under a Donald Trump presidency, the 32 states — including West Virginia and Ohio — that opted to expand Medicaid under the health care law could be forced to bear the entire cost of the expansion or revert back to pre-Affordable Care Act eligibility requirements for the program.

Jeremiah Samples, deputy secretary for public health and insurance with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, acknowledged Mountain State residents have seen “significantly varying” impacts from the Affordable Care Act — but he pointed out the state has reduced its uninsured rate from 17 percent to 5 percent due to coverage expansions under the law.

“There are more than 175,000 citizens on the Medicaid expansion and more than 35,000 who have received coverage on the health insurance exchange. The vast majority of these individuals are working or are transitioning between jobs,” Samples said. “It would be devastating for families, the state’s workforce and the state’s economy if these West Virginians lost their health insurance.”

Although the Kaiser Family Foundation report points out any loss of Medicaid coverage would “depend on the specifics of the repeal and any replacement plan as well as actions by individual states,” Ferns said there’s no way West Virginia can afford to pay for all the new enrollees made possible by the 2014 expansion.

“It likely would go back to the way it was before Obamacare,” Ferns said of West Virginia’s Medicaid program if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

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