VA House, Senate Pass Medicaid Expansion for 400,000 Virginians

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VA House, Senate Pass Medicaid Expansion for 400,000 Virginians

Photo: New York Times Dispatch

Photo: New York Times Dispatch

Photo: New York Times Dispatch

Photo: New York Times Dispatch

Adams Sachs, Staff Writer

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           On Wednesday, May 30th, the Virginia General Assembly reconvened at the State Capitol in Richmond for a special session to vote on the annual budget. This year’s budget included raises for police officers, teachers, and other state employees, as well as increased funding for education. However, the most important measure considered as part of this year’s budget was HB 5001, a bill that would expand funding for Medicaid health-care coverage for hundreds of thousands of lower-income Virginians.

           Medicaid expansion had been a goal for Virginia democratic legislators since the federal funding became available after the passage of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, the Federal government allowed states to voluntarily open Medicaid rolls for people making up to 138% of the federal poverty rate, or approximately $16,500 annually for an individual. The Federal government pledged to pay about 90% of the cost for doing so, which in Virginia, amounts to approximately $2 billion a year. Since the passage of the ACA, the Republican-dominated General Assembly has refused this money, with the belief that the Federal government would rescind its funding promises, leaving the states with an unmanageable financial burden. For years, this money was essentially going “down the drain,” that is, until Democrats all around Virginia showed up to vote and dramatically changed the party makeup of the Virginia legislature.

           In November of 2017, a “blue wave” swept the Virginia legislature as Democrats “flipped” over a dozen seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and won all three statewide offices. Many candidates, including Governor Ralph Northam, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, and local favorites Delegates Debra Rodman, Schuyler VanValkenburg, and Dawn Adams campaigned on a platform of increasing access to healthcare, and specifically, expanding access to Medicaid for over 400,000 Virginians.

           When Governor Northam called legislators back to Richmond for a special session, all eyes were on the Virginia Senate. House Democrats seemed poised to pass a Medicaid expansion initiative, while the large Republican majority in the Senate made it seem like Medicaid expansion was unlikely to ever reach the governor’s desk. However, after a closely-watched 23-17 vote, Medicaid expansion passed the Virginia Senate in the early afternoon on Wednesday, May 30th, 2018. Just hours later, the same initiative passed the House in a sweeping 67-31 victory. Del. John McGuire, who spoke to the Maggie Walker Young Republicans club last week, voted against it. With the help of a few key Republicans, Virginia Democrats achieved a key campaign promise and public policy goal. The initiative is now on its way to Governor Northam’s desk, where he is expected to sign it in the next few days.

           Democrats across Virginia applauded the move, with Senator Tim Kaine tweeting “BIG NEWS: The Virginia Senate just voted to move forward on Medicaid expansion! The bipartisan vote is a long-overdue step towards giving hundreds of thousands of Virginians access to health care. Now, let’s get it done!” Congressional Rep. Don McEachin (VA-4) tweeted “I am thrilled that my former colleagues in the Virginia Senate finally passed Medicaid expansion. Thousands of …. underinsured Virginians are now one step closer to accessing high-quality, affordable healthcare, which should be a right for every American.”

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