The scandal over long wait times for veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system has grabbed a lot of headlines and elicited a lot of righteous anger -- as it should. America's veterans deserve so much better.
But as Ezra Klein pointed out in a piece in Vox, there's another health care scandal that also deserves its share of righteous anger, and it also has a big impact on veterans with health care needs: the self-destructive refusal of lawmakers in 20-plus states to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.
Klein cataloged "24 health-care scandals that critics of the VA should also be furious about" (that is, the 24 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion). Thanks to lawmakers' knee-jerk opposition to expanding health coverage in those states, there are huge numbers of uninsured veterans who should be eligible for coverage, but aren't: 41,200 veterans in Florida, 24,900 in Georgia, 48,900 in Texas... and the list goes on.
All in all, about 250,000 uninsured veterans are getting stiffed out of eligibility for health coverage by lawmakers who have blocked Medicaid expansion, according to Pew's Stateline. As it turns out, those lawmakers are also stiffing their own states out of economy-boosting jobs -- health care jobs that are overwhelmingly good-paying jobs. Medicaid expansion would create thousands more of these jobs.
Virginia, where Medicaid expansion still hangs in limbo, is a perfect example. According to a report from Chmura Economics & Analytics, Medicaid expansion would create an average of over 30,000 jobs annually in Virginia, including more than 15,000 jobs in the state's health care sector. An analysis of data on projected job openings and wage levels underscores that these will be good-paying, economy-boosting jobs.
For a single adult in Virginia, less than half of all projected job openings statewide pay above a living wage ($18.59/hour, according to the 2013 Virginia Job Gap Study). However, three out of five health care job openings and close to nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.
For a household with two working adults and two children, while less than two out of five projected job openings in Virginia pay median wages above a living wage ($21.99/hour per worker), half of health care job openings and more than seven out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.
Or look at Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan passed by the Maine Legislature earlier this year, and too few Republican legislators were willing to break ranks with the Governor to override his veto. There, Medicaid expansion would create over 4,000 jobs by 2016, including more than 2,000 jobs in Maine's health care sector. As with Virginia, health care jobs beat statewide wage levels in Maine by wide margins.
For a single adult, less than half of all projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($15.18/hour, according to the 2013 Maine Job Gap Study). But two-thirds of health care job openings and almost nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do. For a household with two working adults and two children, while barely one-third of projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($18.87/hour per worker), almost three-fifths of health care job openings and more than four out of five health practitioner and technical job openings do.
Health care jobs are also overwhelmingly higher-wage jobs in states like Montana and Idaho. But all these states, along with 20 others, have been missing out on these economy-boosting jobs because their legislatures or governors have rejected Medicaid expansion.
State lawmakers who continue to block Medicaid expansion do so at their own peril -- both morally and electorally. Because you can only stiff your own constituents -- including low-income, uninsured veterans -- out of both access to health care and good-paying, economy-boosting jobs for so long before it catches up with you.
Want to really do something to help veterans get access to the health care they need and create good-paying jobs for your constituents at the same time? Two words: expand Medicaid.
LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national organizing and policy network that advances campaigns for quality, affordable healthcare, economic fairness, and racial equity.