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West Virginia Medicaid Expansion: Earl Ray Tomblin Agrees To Expand Program

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West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) announced his state would take part in a key element of President Barack Obama's health care plan to enroll more low-income people in Medicaid.

"We anticipate expansion will allow us to provide insurance coverage to approximately 91,500 working West Virginians, significantly reducing the number of uninsured," Tomblin said in a press release.

"A decision to expand today, however, does not end our efforts," Tomblin continued. "We must carefully watch federal efforts. If the program becomes unsustainable, particularly after three years, or the federal government changes its promised funding allocations, we must be prepared to take action to protect our state."

Joined by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Tomblin announced the expansion Tuesday at St. Francis Hospital in Charleston.

"At the end of the day we have weighed the options and believe that expanding Medicaid is the best choice for West Virginia," Tomblin said.

Though he's open to the expansion, Tomblin did say the state "must carefully watch federal actions" to make sure the program is sustainable.

Rockefeller, a strong proponent rof Obamacare, praised Tomblin for the decision.

"Gov. Tomblin's decision is based on the facts, and it's a good decision for West Virginia families," Rockefeller said.

Including Tomblin, the chief executives of 27 states and the District of Columbia support expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, while more than a dozen Republican governors oppose it. However, Republican-dominated legislatures in a number of states are blocking the plans of those governors who are seeking to broaden the program.

The AP reports Tomblin based his decision on a financial analysis of the potential benefits and pitfalls of expansion.

Under Obama's health care reform law, Medicaid coverage would be available to anyone who earns up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,282 for a single person this year. States are allowed to opt out of the expansion, however, based on a Supreme Court ruling last year that Congress couldn't mandate they enlarge Medicaid, which is jointly run and financed by the federal and state governments.

The Obamacare Medicaid expansion brings unprecedented federal funding for the program. From next year through 2016, the federal government will pay the full cost of covering newly eligible people in states that undertake the expansion, after which the federal share shrinks over time until it reaches 90 percent in 2022 and future years. The federal government currently pays an average 57 percent of the expenses for those already enrolled in Medicaid.

Below, a release from Tomblin's office on Medicaid expansion:

Expanding Medicaid- West Virginia’s Best Choice in a Dynamic Healthcare Landscape

This story has been updated with more information about Medicaid expansion under Obama's health care reform law and comments from today's announcement.

Jeffrey Young contributed reporting.

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