Poll: Medicaid expansion proving extremely popular in Virginia

With more than 300,000 people now enrolled, a new poll shows that a large majority of Virginians approve of Medicaid expansion.

The poll — commissioned by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association and conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy — found that 71 percent of the 800 Virginians polled approved of expanding the program.

According to VHHA, the poll was commissioned “to help identify health care issues of concern to Virginians and to inform the association’s approach to development corresponding public policy solutions,” a news release states.

Three-fourths of responders were not aware that hospitals “are the only health care sector partner making financial contributions to the state (totaling roughly $300 million each year) to cover the state’s share of Medicaid expansion costs.”

Hospitals pay a provider tax that funds Virginia’s share of Medicaid expansion, while the federal government picks up the bulk of the tab. Virginia’s hospitals agreed to the tax last year during the budget battle over expansion.

The poll also delved into the fraught Certificate of Public Need, or COPN, debate, which is meant to control the number of medical facilities and services available in different regions of the state. Opponents say it stifles competition that could lower prices for patients.

Hospitals have traditionally supported the program, and 55 percent of those polled say it should remain in place while 13 percent say it should be eliminated and 32 percent responded “Not sure.”

The poll also queried respondents about a more recent debate in Virginia health care: balance billing, otherwise known as surprise medical bills, which can happen when a patient at an in-network facility gets a doctor or other provider who isn’t, then gets hit with a hefty bill. An attempt by lawmakers to end the practice for emergency room visits collapsed under the weight of the two arguing sides: hospitals and doctors on one end, and insurers on the other.

According to the poll, 51 percent believe insurance companies should be held financially responsible for paying the balance that would otherwise be sent to the patients. Another 19 percent said the hospital should be responsible, 14 percent said the patient and 6 percent said the doctor should be responsible.

In addition to the 51 percent who think insurers should be responsible for the balance (in a balance billing scenario), 14 percent think the patient should be responsible, 6 percent think the doctor, and 19 percent think the hospital should be responsible.

While 55 percent think the COPN program should be kept, 13 percent think it should be eliminated and 32 percent say they’re not sure.

Katie O’Connor is a reporter with the Virginia Mercury, which first published this story.