What do Medicaid expansion and AirTran Airways have in common? A lot more than you think. On May 11, 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 was transporting 110 people from Miami to Atlanta when it crashed in the Everglades killing everyone on board. It was one of the worst airline crashes in American history.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, the FAA grounded the airline. Its stock plummeted as investors fled the low-cost carrier. Talking heads proclaimed that the end of ValuJet was certain.
The public lost faith in ValuJet's ability to provide quality service at a reasonable cost.
What did ValuJet do . . . and how does it tie into the Medicaid expansion debate? Simple. ValuJet responded to the crisis by purchasing a smaller airline, called AirTran Airways. It quickly retired the ValuJet name and rebranded itself as AirTran Airways.
The public forgot AirTran's past and it soon returned to profitability before ultimately merging with Southwest Airlines.
Likewise, Medicaid expansion has a bad brand in Virginia. The Republicans appear steadfast in their opposition to expand by pointing to the unsustainable growth in Medicaid and the financial strain it puts on the Commonwealth. They also link it to the ever unpopular Obamacare at every turn. Expanding Medicaid turns out a very vocal and large crowd putting pressure on legislators to hold firm.
Governor McAuliffe's response to this dilemma: rebrand Medicaid expansion. He is no longer seeking to expand Medicaid. He is attempting to provide quality health care to the uninsured. Pretty smart politics. The governor is banking on the positive response individuals have to help those in need rather than the negative response that comes with expanding a government entitlement. He hopes this new language will provide cover to Republicans who have vocally opposed Medicaid expansion when deciding how to vote.
So remember ValuJet the next time you hear a politician, advocate or reporter mention the need to provide quality health care to the uninsured. Remember that they believe we won't recognize it as being Medicaid expansion, just as we forgot that AirTran was once ValuJet. Don't be fooled, and don't let our elected officials be fooled either.