Friday, December 23, 2011

A bad month for Virginia's Republican leadership, a good month for the PPACA

(This was originally posted on the National Physicians Alliance Virginia Local Action Network blog site December 18, 2011)

Ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) healthcare reform law was under debate, Virginia has been at the forefront of its opponents.  In March 2010, before the PPACA was passed and signed into law, Virginia passed a law that would make it illegal for the government to require Virginians to have health insurance.  After the PPACA was signed into law, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sued to overturn the law on the grounds that it violated the United States' Constitution's "commerce cause".  Cuccinelli has continued to be vocal in his opposition to the PPACA's reforms, including writing a legal article earlier this year attacking the law's legal foundation.

At the same time that Cuccinelli has taken an ideologically pure approach to attacking the PPACA, Governor Bob McDonnell has taken a more practical approach to the law.  Although McDonnell has opposed the PPACA's reforms from the moment it was signed into law--and he still opposes the law--he chose to set up a Virginia health reform council to discuss how the law's reforms would affect Virginia as well as to review other options to reform health care in Virginia.

Given their political positions (and possible future plans regarding elected office), this has been a difficult Fall for Cuccinelli and McDonald.  First, in September the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Virginia's lawsuit against the PPACA, stating that the state lacked standing to sue until 2014 at the earliest.  Then, November provided two major political blows to Virginia's state leadership: first, when the United States Supreme Court chose to hear legal challenges to the PPACA, it did not include Virginia's legal challenge among the cases it will review.

Then, at the end of the month, the Health Reform Initiative Advisory Council McDonnell appointed filed its report on how Virginia could respond to the PPACA.  Per the ThinkProgress blog, the report indicated that, "[R]oughly half of the uninsured in Virginia will gain coverage, a little more than 520,000 people, and that 420,000 of them will gain Medicaid coverage. A little over 100,000 Virginians would gain private coverage, and more than 60 percent of them will be in group as opposed to non-group markets…[A]lmost 400,000 of those who gain coverage are in households with incomes less than two times the federal poverty level, though 70,000 of the formerly uninsured earn more than three times poverty today." [emphasis in original blog article]  ThinkProgress also reports that the PPACA is expected to reduce the burden of uninsured medical care by approximately 50%.  McDonnell has not yet indicated whether he will recommend formation of a Virginia-run health insurance exchange, but the commission's report suggests that Virginia should run this exchange/marketplace in order to maintain maximum flexibility.

These two developments make November a month that Virginia's Republican leadership would prefer to forget.  On the one hand, the Supreme Court has let stand the Appeals Court decision that Virginia lacks standing to sue to overturn the PPACA.  On the other hand, the Governor's own health care reform commission has found that the state--and it's citizens--stand to benefit notably from the healthcare reform law, and that the state should move forward to enact it.

These same developments support the positions held by the PPACA's supporters: the first being that the the law is constitutional and that the state cannot exempt Virginia from following federal law, and the second being that he law will have tangible and meaningful benefits for Virginians.

This does not end the fight over the law and its constitutionality, and it does not mean that Virginia's General Assembly (now controlled by Republicans in both houses) will work to enact a healthcare exchange.  However, the law's supporters in Virginia can take heart in these recent events as we work to spread the word about the law's benefits--both for Virginia, and for the nation.

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