20190110_XGR_GOV_BB04

Gov. Ralph Northam

Growing up with a working nurse as a mom, I learned early about the importance of access to good health care. That led me to become a doctor in the Army, where I treated wounded soldiers during Desert Storm. After I was discharged, I practiced pediatric neurology for more than 25 years in Norfolk.

Treating sick children, and children living with disabilities, really opens your eyes to the importance of health coverage — meaningful, affordable, quality coverage. Access to good health coverage means a patient can see a doctor before a pain or a cough turns into a major illness. Good, meaningful coverage means you can afford your medication, and that your health insurance policy actually covers the health care you need. We provided that, working in a bipartisan way, when we expanded Medicaid in 2018, providing more than 320,000 Virginians with affordable, real health coverage.

But meaningful coverage is under threat. In Washington, President Donald Trump has continued his effort to demolish the health coverage protections established by the Affordable Care Act, and sadly, he has received help from legislators here in Richmond.

As costs continue to block so many Virginians who want access to affordable, meaningful health coverage, the president and several Richmond legislators have pushed health coverage plans that lack protection for Virginians with pre-existing conditions, or that would allow insurers to raise rates or drop coverage once a person actually gets sick. They’re low cost, but they’re also low care.

I might not have a vote in Washington, but I have the veto pen in Richmond, and I vetoed several bills this year that — passed under the guise of “customer choice” — would have offered families a false sense of security and required payment of sky-high deductibles at the very time when they may need meaningful coverage the most.

These efforts deliberately undermine ACA protections and incentivize health insurance companies to provide less meaningful coverage, which will lead to more struggling families and wider insurance coverage gaps.

It’s more important than ever that we look at what we can do at the state level to make sure the health coverage Virginians buy actually covers their health care needs. And my administration is doing just that.

This coming week, I will sign Executive Directive 5, directing Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dan Carey to pursue real actions to promote health coverage and meaningful access for all Virginians.

My administration will seek to implement innovative strategies that will reduce health insurance premiums statewide; use data to make coverage more efficient and improve health outcomes, especially for vulnerable populations; and develop an approach to allow this commonwealth to make the decisions of how to best meet the needs of Virginians.

Additionally, last fall, the Virginia Market Stability Work Group detailed a number of policy proposals to expand access to meaningful, affordable health coverage. The group’s ideas included the creation of a fiscally responsible, sustainable reinsurance program to lower premiums. They also suggested Virginia create a state-based health insurance marketplace, which would allow us to manage our own insurance market rather than letting Washington do it.

Other ideas include working with providers to implement more value-based care, which is less costly to patients but just as effective, and establishing consumer protections to safeguard against predatory practices that hurt Virginia families.

As we approach the 2020 General Assembly session, our administration will evaluate all of these proposals as we fight for affordable health insurance that includes meaningful coverage for all Virginians.

As a doctor, I learned that in the long run, it’s more effective to cure the illness than to just treat the symptoms. Band-Aid solutions like those pushed by Trump and some Richmond legislators will only provide a false sense of security, while leaving Virginians just as vulnerable to financial ruin if they get sick.

As a doctor and as governor of Virginia, I want the best health care for all Virginians. And that means I want the best health coverage possible for all Virginians. Our administration will leave no stone unturned as we look for ways to make that happen.

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Ralph Northam is governor

of Virginia. Contact him at

(804) 786-2211.

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