By Stephen J. Farnsworth, Stephen P. Hanna, and Benjamin Harris
Richmond Times-Dispatch (Published March 3, 2014)
You wouldn’t know it from partisan rhetoric or from recent votes in the Virginia House of Delegates, but the commonwealth’s rural Republican heartland relies on Medicaid about as much as inner-city urban communities.
Even though GOP delegates rejected overwhelmingly a plan for expansion of that federal health care program for the poor, Republicans represent 32 of the state’s top 50 delegate districts ranked by percentage of the population on Medicaid. Democrats represent the other 18. These high Medicaid districts represented by both parties would benefit disproportionately from a Virginia Senate-approved plan to add hundreds of thousands of Virginians to the Medicaid program.
Using Medicaid data compiled by the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, we created a map that identified Top 50 and Bottom 50 districts in terms of Medicaid population. (Given majority rule in the House of Delegates, we figured that a 50-50 division was as good as any.)
Dark red districts in the accompanying map are those with relatively high Medicaid populations and Republican representation, while dark blue districts have larger Medicaid populations and Democratic representation. Lighter shades of red and blue mark the bottom 50 districts, as measured by Medicaid population, and their partisan representation.
With a Republican victory in a Tuesday special election, the GOP now holds 68 of 100 delegate seats. Many of those Republican districts are sparsely populated, and therefore the map is mostly red. Democratic-held districts generally are concentrated in more populous urban areas and appear much smaller on the map.
As the map shows, a huge swath of the state, including nearly the entire area south of Interstate 64 and west of Interstate 85, is both Republican in its politics and more reliant than average on Medicaid. Another stretch of high Medicaid reliance and Republican representation can be found along the Interstate 81 corridor, also one of the state’s more conservative regions.