There’s a big reason to question the accuracy of a new poll of Virginians from Christopher Newport University, which the Washington Postand other news outlets have highlighted, that purports to find significantly less enthusiasm for expanding Medicaid as part of health reform. Here’s what policymakers and media should keep in mind.
The pollsters say they found that Virginians’ support for expansion dropped from 56 percent on February 3 to 41 percent now. What the pollsters do not fully acknowledge, however, is that they asked the question in two markedly different ways, making this a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges finding that doesn’t necessarily show a shift in public opinion:
On February 3 the question was asked: Medicaid is a health care program for families and individuals with low income that is funded by both federal and state tax dollars. Currently, Virginia is faced with a decision about whether to expand the Medicaid program to cover an additional 400,000 mostly working poor Virginians who are uninsured. In general, do you support Medicaid expansion or oppose it?
But on April 24 poll the question was asked: In [the Medicaid expansion] debate, the Democrats propose to subsidize private insurance for 400,000 uninsured and low income Virginians by using federal Medicaid money that would otherwise not come to Virginia. Republicans oppose this expansion because they fear the federal Medicaid money will not come as promised, and also say the current Medicaid program has too much waste and abuse and needs reformed before it is expanded.
Thus, unlike in February, Virginians in the most recent poll were asked whether the state should expand Medicaid only after they were read the straw man argument that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund nearly all the costs of the expansion. As we have explained, the history of Medicaid’s financing shows that federal funding has remained remarkably steady for decades.
Virginia policymakers should not be swayed by a misleading poll when deciding whether to expand Medicaid. They should instead keep in mind that the state’s own analysis found that expanding will save the state more than $1 billion through 2022. For the state, and the 400,000 uninsured Virginians who stand to gain health coverage from the expansion, the expansion remains an incredibly good deal.