West Virginia continues to see drop in number of uninsured people

Andrew Brown, Gazette Staff Writer

West Virginia ranks as one of the top states in the country when it comes to reducing the number of uninsured people in recent years, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

West Virginia saw the number of uninsured state residents drop from 255,000 to 108,000 people between 2013 and 2015, according to the Census Bureau’s survey data on healthcare — a 136 percent change over that two-year period.

The data, which was released by the federal government on Tuesday, shows that roughly 6 percent of the Mountain State’s population still does not have either a private or public health insurance plan.

While that leaves more than a thousand people without some type of health care coverage, it is a drastic drop from the 14 percent of the population that didn’t have coverage in 2013, according to the census data.

Last year, the state had more than 90 percent of its people enrolled in some type of insurance program. A report from that same time period also found that around 97 percent of West Virginia’s more than 386,000 children were covered by public or private insurance.

Much of that decline is tied to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s expansion of the state’s Medicaid program in May 2013, which was a direct result of the Affordable Care Act.

That expansion allowed people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or $24,300 for a family of four, to apply for the program, which is funded by the state and federal government.

As of the end of August, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported that more than 178,000 West Virginians had enrolled in Medicaid since Tomblin approved the expansion.

“Today’s data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that West Virginia is a leader among states in reducing the number of our uninsured adults and children,” said Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, which sent out a news release about the survey results. “We can thank our state legislators and governor for doing what is smart for West Virginia — supporting Medicaid for more hard-working families. Medicaid is a win-win: more West Virginians get health insurance coverage and the state pulls in federal dollars that help grow our economy and create jobs.”

Nationally, the data shows that states that have expanded their Medicaid programs have, to a large extent, been more successful at reducing the number of uninsured people than states that refused to go along with the option under Obamacare.

Between 2013 and 2015, states that expanded Medicaid before 2014 successfully reduced the number of uninsured people from 11.9 percent to 6.84 percent of their state’s populations on average. The states that didn’t approve Medicaid expansion saw their uninsured population drop from 14.9 percent to 11 percent of their population on average.

The success of West Virginia’s Medicaid expansion effort could be decided in the coming years as the state is required to cover a larger portion of the costs for those newly-insured people.

Over the first three years of the expansion, the federal government has fronted 100 percent of the cost, but starting next year, the state will need to contribute a 5 percent match to receive the federal funds — or roughly $15 million.

That funding match will increase to 10 percent by 2020, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

While the state is struggling with budgetary issues, the two major-party candidates running to be West Virginia’s next governor have both said they will continue to support Medicaid expansion.

Republican Bill Cole and Democrat Jim Justice voiced support for the Medicaid effort last month, even though Cole said Obamacare has been a failure and Justice talked about rooting out waste.

Those sentiments are similar to responses of many conservative lawmakers and politicians throughout the country, who have repeatedly called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act but have come to publicly support the Medicaid expansion effort.

Reach Andrew Brown at andrew.brown@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.