By Kim Jones, Coordinator, Health Care for All WV
As of December 2023, there are 516,100 West Virginians on Medicaid. This includes almost 50% of our children. During the pandemic, we got more federal Medicaid funds to manage the Public Health Emergency. People could not be kicked off of Medicaid due to the financial eligibility limits, to make sure everyone who needed it had coverage. In April of 2023, the “public health unwind” began. People were reevaluated and those who made more than the eligibility limit lost their coverage. More than 100,000 people have lost their coverage since then.
And now the program faces a shortfall in state funding that is the result of lack of foresight about saving state Medicaid dollars during the Public Health Emergency for the day when it would end. During the Public Health Emergency, West Virginia received an additional $700 million in federal dollars, which led the Governor to spend the state funds on something other than it was intended. Had it been saved and not spent in other ways, we would now have about $700 million to use for several years. Whatever the Governor’s priorities were, the sustainability of the health of 37% of our citizens came in second.
As a result of the shortfall, some state leaders are looking at more ways to save the state money, including cutting certain services, despite the fact that Medicaid not only covers individuals, but supports hospitals, clinics, public health and much more. And the federal government match is nearly 3 times what the state spends, and they match at a higher rate (up to 9 times) for some services in Medicaid Expansion states. It would be wasteful and negligent to not fund Medicaid fully.
HB 4933 has passed the House of Delegates. It is a bill that will allow dentures to be paid for by Medicaid without cutting into the $1,000 dental benefit recipients get every year. The benefit that started in 2021 was a big step in taking care of the oral health of some of our most vulnerable people. In fact, other states have used West Virginia’s dental bill as a template for their own bills. However, it isn’t enough to cover the extra cost of dentures. The West Virginia Dental Association believes this bill will help dentists get properly reimbursed for their work. Not only will this bill help seniors who need dentures, but many people who have lived with substance use disorder. People in recovery often face that added difficulty of getting a job and feeling confident about themselves because of the damage to their teeth. For more informed reading, see this article.