U.Va. Demographers Find Nearly 500,000 Virginians to Become Eligible for Medicaid Under Health Reform

September 21, 2010 — A new study by demographers at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service finds that the federal health care reform law will extend Medicaid eligibility to nearly half a million Virginians. This alone could reduce the total number of people without health insurance by as much as 21 percent.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama last March, includes a nationwide expansion of state Medicaid programs to cover more poor and uninsured Americans. Eligibility requirements across the country will change in 2014 to include almost all people younger than 65 who have incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty line ($29,300 per year for a family of four).

"This expansion will have wide-ranging implications for Virginia," said Qian Cai, director of the Cooper Center's Demographics & Workforce Group. "Our study should help state policymakers assess the impact and implications of the law as they prepare to implement the new Medicaid rules."

The Cooper Center examined Virginia's current eligibility standards for Medicaid and projects how eligibility and enrollment will change as a result of health care reform. The study finds that the coming Medicaid expansion will extend eligibility to a large segment of Virginia's uninsured population.

According to Dustin Cable, the study's author, an additional 464,000 poor Virginians will become eligible for Medicaid in 2014.

"We don't expect all of these newly eligible to enroll, however," Cable said. "More than half of the newly eligible already have health insurance, and not all of the uninsured will participate in Medicaid."

The study projects that between 240,000 and 340,000 additional Virginians will enroll in Medicaid by 2019, accounting for a reduction of up to 21 percent in the number of uninsured Virginians.  

In addition, the study found most of those newly eligible are younger than 30 whose needs for medical services – and the costs associated with those services – may be different from currently eligible Virginians. 

"Medicaid and health reform are very contentious issues right now and cost estimates for these reforms are often controversial," Cable said. "The best place to start is to have reliable eligibility and enrollment estimates, and we believe our analysis uses the most accurate data and methodologies to obtain these estimates."

The report is the latest edition of Numbers Count, a Cooper Center publication that analyzes different aspects of Virginia demographics and discusses topics of current interest.

— By Rebecca Arrington