Bad deal for Virginia

Published 8:25 am Friday, March 26, 2010

Expanding access to reasonably priced quality health care is a bipartisan goal. We all agree that we must make it easier for Americans to purchase and retain health insurance.

However, the massive and complex piece of legislation passed by Congress allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the U.S. economy. The continued intrusion of this Congress into the free enterprise system — and the placing of new mandates on states — is shocking to the American system of federalism.

Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. This is an unprecedented expansion of federal power. It is hard to imagine our founders agreeing that the U.S. Constitution permits Congress to mandate the purchase of a good or service under penalty of law.

Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s attorney general has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states. The issues raised by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli require a full and prompt review by the judicial branch.

While individuals face a mandate in this legislation, so too do the states. The proposed expansion of Medicaid is a historic unfunded federal mandate on the states. This expansion will put at least 400,000 more individuals on Virginia’s Medicaid rolls. The Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services has estimated that it will cost the Commonwealth an additional $1.1 billion by 2022. Virginia — and the other 49 states — will bear the financial burden of one of the biggest unfunded mandates in the history of our nation. This will have a significant and unavoidable impact on the bottom line of our state budget, and the general fiscal welfare of Virginia. We simply cannot afford this expansion.

The bill will cut over $500 billion from Medicare and may reduce the quality of the care our seniors depend upon. The Medicare system is already underfunded and overburdened. This legislation only exacerbates the problems facing the system.

This legislation will raise taxes on individuals and businesses. Our small-business owners, who generate nearly 98 percent of the new jobs in Virginia, will see their taxes go up. This will occur at the same time that federal tax cuts from the early part of last decade expire. We will face significantly higher federal taxes at a time when we need to be keeping taxes low and freeing capital for job creation and economic development. It can also be anticipated that Virginians’ insurance premiums will increase in the years ahead after passage of this legislation.

I am further disappointed that a bill so massive in size is so limited in its approach. Congressional Republicans were right to call for allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines, and this provision should have been included in the bill.

States have long been leaders in the effort to identify and implement innovative health-care solutions. Regardless of the future of this legislation, we must continue to play that important role in our federal system.

In Virginia we will promote incentives for the purchase of long-term care and promote individual medical savings accounts. We will focus on preventive health and combating obesity. We will study our medical delivery systems with the objective of reforming them to work better for our citizens.

Free clinics are an important piece of the coverage equation, and I will look for ways by which the Commonwealth can help with the expansion of these important facilities. We will be aggressive in finding every way by which we can reduce the cost of our Medicaid system, which has already grown 1600 percent in the past 25 years. It is unsustainable.

Every American should have the opportunity to purchase good quality health-care coverage. But we will not improve our health-care system by implementing a massive one-size fits all federal policy that dramatically increases the deficit, puts unprecedented mandates on states and individuals, and jeopardizes the good coverage most citizens already have.

I am disappointed in the passage of this bill, and I thank the bipartisan majority of Virginia’s congressional delegation for voting against it.