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Northam urges Medicaid enrollment: No one should be ‘one medical bill away from financial demise’

RICHMOND, Va. -- An additional 400,000 working Virginians will have access to health care in 2019 thanks to a Medicaid expansion plan passed by the state's legislature in May.

On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam spoke at the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority to update Virginians on the expansion process and urge residents to spread the word about enrollment.

"This has been a long time coming to expand health care in the Commonwealth of Virginia," Northam said. "No individual or family should be one medical bill away from financial demise."

The decision to expand public health insurance under the Affordable Care Act came after four straight years of Republican efforts to block expansion. But last May, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to open Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of low-income Virginians.

"There were a number of folks on both sides of the aisle that had to participate in this. Some took votes that were difficult for them and I appreciate them," Northam said. "In the end, it's about doing what's best for Virginians."

During his Thursday speech, Northam announced that the first of eight state-planned expansion amendments had been approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services

"We will start enrolling individuals across the Commonwealth of Virginia on November 1 and people will be eligible to have coverage on January 1," Northam said.

For many Virginia politicians, the decision to go forward with expansion was influenced by the amount of money Virginia was forfeiting to other states through not participating in the ACA's Medicaid expansion option.

"About 322 million dollars will come back into Virginia over the next 2 years," Northam explained.

In his speech, Northam recognized the more than 1200 Virginians who died from opioid overdoses in 2017, and said that the expansion will help "lift up" rural Virginia and aid hospitals that are operating "in the red."

"We know what the causes are, we know how to treat these individuals, but we need the resources to really help them," Northam said.

Under the ACA, states may expand their Medicaid rolls to people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level, which is $16,643 for an individual and $28,700 for a family of three. The federal government has pledged to pay at least 90% of the cost.