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Gov. McAuliffe, advocates for Virginians with disabilities and mental illness raise concerns about proposed GOP health care bill

March 23, 2017 GMT

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and advocates for Virginians with disabilities and mental illness have raised concerns about how the Republicans’ proposed health care bill would impact the state.

The bill’s latest iteration, which may be voted on as early as today by the U.S. House of Representatives, could reduce Virginia’s Medicaid funding by $708 million over the next decade, Joe Flores, deputy secretary of Health and Human Resources, said late Wednesday afternoon. Had the bill been passed in its earliest version, the decrease in funding would have been around $1.8 billion, he said.

McAuliffe and several of his cabinet secretaries met in Washington on Wednesday afternoon to discuss with Virginia’s congressional delegation their opposition to the bill, which has the support of several leading conservative groups. So far, a majority of Virginia’s 11 members in the U.S. House of Representatives oppose the bill.

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“We are very concerned about the uncertainty it adds to the marketplace — the 400,000 or so Virginians that currently receive coverage through the exchange — but also the unprecedented changes that this bill would make to the Medicaid program and the implications for pregnant women, children, the elderly and disabled,” Flores said.

More than a million Virginians are enrolled in Medicaid. About a third of the spending through the program goes toward services for children, pregnant women and low-income parents; the rest is spent on care for elderly and disabled Virginians, Flores said.

Flores said the caps on Medicaid spending in the bill would force states to either come up with more money to pay for services, cut the number of people served, cut services, or pay providers less.

The proposal proffered by House Majority Leader Paul Ryan and endorsed by President Donald Trump is meant to replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Conservatives have praised it for saving taxpayers “hundreds of billions of dollars” and for shifting power to states.

“As advocates of free market principles and limited government, we endorse this significant legislation that would take the first major step toward repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare,” wrote 12 leading conservatives in a letter to Congress. “In its place, it would create a more market-oriented health care system that prioritizes liberty, consumer choice, and innovation over Obamacare’s government mandates.”

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Advocates for people with disabilities and mental illness are opposing the bill. Some of them descended on Capitol Hill from Richmond this week to lobby against the bill.

Among them was Jamie Liban, executive director of the Arc of Virginia, an advocacy group for people with disabilities.

“People’s health, services and lives are at stake,” Liban said. “The level of cuts over time would decimate the Medicaid program, causing harm to thousands of Virginians with disabilities and their families.”

More than 11,200 people are on a waiting list for disability services funded through Medicaid as of this week, officials with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services said.

Mira Signer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia, said people diagnosed with serious mental illness stand to lose access to doctors if the bill is approved.

“Medicaid is a lifeline for someone with serious mental illness who has become disabled and quite frankly is out of the workforce while they are getting through this,” Signer said.

The concept of giving the state a lump sum may sound attractive for its flexibility, Signer said, but “it would pit groups against each other, fighting for scarce dollars.”