Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Did McDonnell policies help Medicaid babies?

Gov. Bob McDonnell promised to reduce still births and incidents and low birth weights for Medicaid babies.
Gov. Bob McDonnell promised to reduce still births and incidents and low birth weights for Medicaid babies.

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis says we were too kind to Gov. Bob McDonnell  in a recent ruling.

In a May 12 Bob-O-Meter, we gave McDonnell a "Promise Kept" rating on this pledge from his 2009 campaign: "By maintaining (Medicaid) eligibility for pregnant mothers at current levels and promoting education and care for pregnant mothers, we will reduce low birth weights, stillbirths, and long-term health issues for children who will be enrolled after birth in Medicaid programs."

We noted that Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women hasn’t changed since McDonnell took office in January 2010. And statistics through mid-2011 -- the latest available -- showed more Medicaid mothers were receiving care during their pregnancies, the rate of infant mortality had gone down for Medicaid babies and so did the percent of them born at low weights.

But The Commonwealth Institute, a liberal think-tank that focuses on fiscal issues for low- and moderate-income Virginians, says McDonnell is no friend to underprivileged families. The improved health numbers for Medicaid mothers and babies occurred "despite McDonnell, not because of him," Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of the institute, told us.

Cassidy and his staff noted that McDonnell, in January and May 2011, signed letters urging President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to end rules that barred states from toughening their standards for Medicaid eligibility. McDonnell wrote that states needed the option of tightening eligibility to address budget shortfalls.

The letter-writing campaign, by McDonnell and other Republican governors, was unsuccessful.

In Virginia, Medicaid is available to pregnant women and children from households with incomes up to 133 percent of federal poverty lines.

Virginia also subsidizes medical treatment for pregnant mothers and children from low-income households that are slightly above the Medicaid earning thresholds. FAMIS, which stands for Family Access to Medical Insurance Security, offers treatment with low out-of-pocket costs to pregnant moms and kids from families earning up to double the poverty line.

The institute noted that McDonnell, in his first round of budget amendments in 2010, recommended freezing enrollment of eligible Virginians in FAMIS to save about $34 million a year as the emerged from recession. The General Assembly rejected the plan.

McDonnell’s campaign pledge, however, did not apply to FAMIS; it focused on Medicaid.

So we stand by our original ruling that McDonnell kept his promises because Medicaid eligibility remained unchanged and the health of Medicaid newborns improved.

But after reading McDonnell’s letters urging Congress and the White House to give states flexibility to toughen Medicaid eligibility, we wonder how committed the governor was to keeping a key part of his pledge.