Medicaid expansion may spur growth in other benefit programs


ENROLLMENT: There’s no telling yet what kind of impact expanding Medicaid could have on enrollment in other government programs in Virginia.

By Kathryn Watson |, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — As citizens, lawmakers and health care representatives debate whether to expand Medicaid in Virginia, they’ve talked little about how that could increase the number of people receiving other taxpayer-funded benefits.

A social services director told that staff members are encouraged to shepherd Medicaid recipients into other government benefit programs.

When a person signs up for Medicaid at a local Department of Social Services office, or online, they’re also directed to other programs they might be eligible for — like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the most basic form of welfare.

“Of course eligibility workers would ask them ‘Are you interested in applying?’” said Joan Rogers, director of the Patrick County Department of Social Services, noting that local DSS agents are “required to make those referrals” that fall within the agency’s purview to best meet citizens’ needs.

Those local DSS programs include child abuse prevention, foster care, adoptions, heating and cooling assistance, TANF, long-term care under Medicaid, SNAP, adult protective services, adult services and day care services, Rogers said.

Applicants who go online for one program are screened for a variety of other, too.

“The online application for assistance through our web portal (CommonHelp) allows applicants to screen for a variety of programs to assess potential eligibility prior to actually submitting an application,” said Necole Simmonds, director of public affairs for the Virginia Department of Social Services, via email.

The Department of Agriculture’s Food Nutrition Service is conducting a study to find out just how much enrollment in SNAP in particular will increase in states that are expanding Medicaid.

The study isn’t out yet, but Greg Mills, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who is conducting the study, told Politico last fall the increase could be anywhere from 3 percent to 5 percent in some states.

“It would have a substantial financial effect,” said Mills, who sees adding more low-income people onto food assistance as a positive step.

No formal study has been completed in Virginia, but Simmonds said, “most of the individuals in the coverage gap population are eligible for SNAP.” Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act would extend coverage to childless, non-disabled adults.

Already, more than one in 10 Virginians is enrolled in SNAP.

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for, and can be reached at

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