West Virginia taxpayers could face hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs under federal health care legislation according to new tallies from officials at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR). The new figures were included in a response to a request from Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., for an official estimate on how federal health care legislation's expansion of Medicaid would impact the state budget.
The results are in and they're not pretty. DHHR officials suggest that West Virginians could face at least $147 million or as much as $725 million in new costs under legislation approved by the Senate and House respectively.
"I'm completely floored by these numbers," said Capito. "For a program that's already bending under the prospect of huge deficits, this legislation will break it in half. I simply don't know how our state can absorb such a massive new liability. State budgets are busting across the nation, and now Congress - under the guise of health reform - is asking them to add hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs. It's irresponsible and it's not sustainable."
"We've already seen Nebraska exempted from this new burden, and now we know why," she added. "How can we ask West Virginians to stand by and accept such an unfunded mandate?"
Capito made her request to the administration of Governor Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in November, raising concerns about how expanding Medicaid - a program jointly funded by federal and state dollars - could force the state to raise new taxes or make cuts in services to come up with the funding.
Supporters of the Democratic health care bills often argue that expanding Medicaid will lead to cost savings from uncompensated care, but DHHR officials took such savings into account in their estimates and still project enormous new costs for West Virginia. If those savings aren't realized, new taxpayer costs could balloon to more than $857 million.
"I know Secretary Hardy and her team have worked hard to come up with these estimates, and I applaud their hard work," said Capito. "Yet these numbers must serve as a wake-up call to Democratic leaders in Congress. West Virginia taxpayers simply can't afford to foot the bill for the Democrat plan."