01/17/2013 01:19 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2013

Working... But Not Enough

Tasha is a loving mother who works hard but has no insurance through her employer. Although her children's needs are met through Medicaid, she is struggling with diabetes and depression, and cannot cover the costs associated with seeing a doctor or buying medication. She would like nothing more than to have a full-time job that offers health benefits, but those are hard to come by.

Tasha's story is similar to thousands of other families in Virginia -- working families who serve us coffee, drive our buses, bag our groceries, every day -- without health care coverage. That's why it's so important that Virginia lawmakers expand Medicaid.

Currently, Medicaid only helps working parents with income of up to $7,000 per year -- about 30 percent below the federal poverty line. The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to residents who earn up to 38 percent more than the federal poverty level -- about $31,000 for a family of four. This would allow between 300,000 and 400,000 of the one million uninsured Virginians to gain access to comprehensive healthcare.

It's also a great deal for the state. The federal government will pay for 100 percent of this cost through 2016. After that, Virginia would only need to contribute 10 percent of the total cost. Altogether, that means Virginia will get more than $20 billion in federal help over the next 10 years. Those are direct investment dollars into our economy, while making our work force healthier and adding stability to lower-income families.

Quality, affordable healthcare coverage is a smart investment. It creates a more productive workforce, healthier families and healthier communities. The new federal dollars flowing into our state for Medicaid also will strengthen our large health care industry, which provides good-paying jobs for thousands of Virginians in every part of the state.

A recent independent study commissioned by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association estimates expanding Medicaid will produce more than 30,000 new health care jobs, estimated to produce more than $390 million in new income tax revenues to the state. And recent estimates on Virginia's share of Medicaid expansion costs are approximately $137 million over the next nine years.

It's also important to keep in mind the costs of not expanding coverage. When someone goes to an emergency room and can't pay the bill, that cost gets shifted to people with health insurance, through higher premiums. Indeed, the same study found that the status quo will cost Virginia approximately seven percent in additional costs over the net costs of expanding Medicaid.

Families want to take responsibility for their health and the health of their children, but they need affordable options to be able to do so. On behalf of over 100 nonprofits in Northern Virginia and the 3.5 million people we serve, we urge the General Assembly to expand Medicaid. Virginia's workforce -- and our economy -- depend on it.

Amanda Andere chairs the steering committee of Nonprofit NoVA and is Executive Director of FACETS .You can reach her at