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DuVal: Health insurance coverage keeps state competitive in business

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Virginia takes great pride, and justifiably so, in being the best state for business. We are regularly recognized as the best state for business by economic development magazines, business websites and, most importantly, by company leaders who choose to locate their enterprises in the commonwealth. It took decades for Virginia to be recognized as the best for business. It will take constant effort for us to stay there. This means wise investment by our government in essential infrastructure and services, a favorable tax and regulatory climate, and a well-prepared work force.

As the state’s leading business organization, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce views itself as the guardian of our state’s reputation for being the best for business. This is why we carefully assess the important public policy questions of the day, to determine what is the best course for business in the commonwealth and for maintaining our competitive advantage with other states. In the case of Medicaid reform and extension of coverage to the uninsured, the best path in our judgment is to move forward with reforming our state’s largest health insurance program and extending health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians, primarily from working families.

At present, there are approximately 1 million Virginians who lack health insurance. Other states face a similar issue with the uninsured. In their statement supporting Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to move forward with extending Medicaid coverage, the Arizona business community succinctly summed up why reducing the number of uninsured matters: “Due to cost shifting resulting from uncompensated care, businesses’ costs for covering workers are higher than they otherwise should be, a phenomenon often referred to as the hidden health care tax.”

It is estimated that this hidden tax adds as much as 10 percent to the cost of health insurance premiums in the commonwealth. At the same time, over the next decade Virginians will pay more than $25 billion in federal taxes and fees to fund federal health reform efforts, including Medicaid coverage extension in those states that choose to move forward. Virginia tax dollars are going to reduce the cost of health care in other states. Our own federal tax dollars should be spent to do the same here in the commonwealth.

Lower health care costs have long been a competitive advantage that overseas companies use against U.S. firms. We simply cannot afford to have lower health care costs become a competitive advantage that other states use against Virginia in economic development. Moreover, Chmura Economics and Analytics estimates that extending Medicaid coverage will create more than 30,000 jobs annually and billions in economic activity right here in Virginia.

Even more fundamentally, covering more than a quarter-million uninsured Virginians by offering them higher quality, lower cost health care will add to what we at the Virginia Chamber view as Virginia’s greatest competitive advantage of all: The commonwealth is the best place to live, work and raise a family. Having too many uninsured patients hurts our quality of life because many of our fellow citizens are not as healthy as they should be in the work place and in school. Emergency departments are more crowded than they should be, because the uninsured have few other options for obtaining needed care. This limits the ability of our health care system to respond to emergency situations, like a natural disaster or a disease outbreak. It is hard to maintain our quality-of-life advantage without doing all we can to strengthen our health care system and the health of our people.

One of our greatest Virginians, Thomas Jefferson, observed that as much as he valued books and education, “health is worth more than learning.” We have taken immense and well-deserved pride in our investments in learning in the commonwealth and the world-class education system that we have built from preschool to graduate school. We now have an opportunity to invest our own federal tax dollars in improving health care right here in Virginia by providing needed services to the citizens of Virginia. We should move forward and seize that opportunity.

Barry E. DuVal is president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at b.duval@vachamber.com.

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