Medicaid Expansion: A Waiting Game

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Hampton resident Brittany Brown was born with autism and an intellectual disability.

Her mother, Jennifer, says specialists told her family Brittany was at risk of never being able to communicate, walk properly or write.

“She proved them wrong,” Brown said about her now 21-year-old daughter.

Brown says Brittany graduated from Phoebus High School with a modified degree, ran on the track team and now is involved with Project Search.

Brittany wants to live her life just like everyone else as a contributing member of society, but there may be one last obstacle in her way.

“She basically wants to grow up like everyone else, move out, and have her own job and live her life independently and she needs a little bit of help to do that,” Brown said.

Brown says her daughter needs Medicaid assistance.

Medicaid doesn’t just help those with low-income. It also provides for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Brittany needs a Medicaid waiver to provide financial resources, which is normally given out through institutions. The waiver will help her move out of her home and live independently.

“My husband and I are not going to live forever. If we have her living here as a perpetual child, what’s she going to do when we die?” Brown asked.

The Browns are now applying for the waiver for the first time and it could take up to seven years, according to the Virginia Department of Behavorial Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS).

DBHDS says more than 11,000 Virginians are on the waiting list for Medicaid waivers that help those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“You knew you weren’t going to get the resources immediately. It’s a lot of effort to go through the process to apply and when you know there are other citizens who desperately need it so much more than we were, you don’t want to take away from someone who needs it so much more,” Brown said.

The solution to cut down on wait times and provide more resources could come through the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Virginia is one of 19 states that has voted not to expand Medicaid.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam says the expansion would provide relief to 400,000 Virginians.

“Every day Virginia doesn’t expand Medicaid, we’re not only leaving on the table, but giving back $5 million a day to surrounding states who we’re competing with. In the last three and a half years, we’ve given over 10 billion with a ‘B’ dollars and we will never get that back,” said Northam.

Under the ACA, the federal government would fully cover costs for newly eligible adults in Virginia.

Eventually, the state would have to pitch in its own funds to cover portions of those costs. That is a sticking point for Virginia’s Speaker of the House William Howell.

Howell tells 10 On Your Side that not expanding Medicaid is the right decision.

“Most states that expanded Medicaid have enrolled more than twice as many able-bodied adults as expected, resulting in large cost overruns that create significant budget gaps. Oregon’s Medicaid program contributed to the state a $1.6 billion budget shortfall despite economic indicators in the positive. Kentucky’s Medicaid program is $3.3 billion over budget in the first two and half years of expansion. In Ohio, Medicaid expansion ran $4.2 billion over budget in the first two and half years of expansion. Every additional dollar spent on Medicaid is one less dollar than can be spent on public safety, transportation, and education. Medicaid is a broken system that is in desperate need of reforms. We should focus our efforts on reforming Medicaid to ensure that it is there in the future for those who truly need it.”

Both Northam and Howell expressed concern about the healthcare battle in Washington D.C. over the Affordable Care Act.

For now, people like Brittany are caught in the middle, waiting for a chance to live the life they want.

“Civil rights should not be a political issue. That’s a human rights issue,” Brown said.