Virginia legislators have finally agreed to expand Medicaid after a five-year battle that has been split across party lines. Despite advice from the White House and Trump administration advising against expanding the program, the legislature voted to offer coverage to an additional 400,000 low-income individuals through Medicaid expansion.
The Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted on Wednesday in favor of the state budget. The budget allows for Medicaid expansion, and the House of Delegates approved the measure shortly after the Senate ratified it.
Republicans joined with Democrats in both chambers in a bi-partisan effort to pass the budget. Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, focused and campaigned heavily on expanding Medicaid during his 2017 campaign. He plans to sign the budget soon.
Governor Northam said that the process takes time and needs to happen in steps if it is to be effective. It won’t be something that happens overnight. The shift in the House has significantly modified the makeup and allowed the expansion to be included in the budget.
The vote and signature of the governor will make Virginia the 33rd state to take advantage of the expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, implemented by former President Barack Obama.
The Trump administration vocally opposed the expansion. They are actively fighting to eventually repeal Obamacare and replace it with something drafted by Republicans.
Passage of the budget exemplifies a drastic shift in Virginia’s politics towards the left after the 2017 election. Democrats gained 15 seats in the House of Delegates in the 2017 state elections, and nearly took control of the legislative body.
During the final hours of debate, Republican Senator Ben Chafin openly expressed his support for expanding Medicaid. He’s from an area of Virginia suffering economically due to the decline of coal.
He cited that the expansion will provide funding for hospitals and allow his constituents to receive the care that they desperately need. He shifted his position and stated, “No just wasn’t the answer anymore.”
The key to gaining Republican support for the measure was primarily the Trump administration’s push to implement work requirements for individuals to receive Medicaid, said GOP Speaker Kirk Cox. The ACA allows states to expand Medicaid services to individuals up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
The current amounts are $16,643 for an individual and $28,700 for a family of three. The federal government will pay 90 percent of the extra costs the state incurs to offer the program. Virginia will see approximately $2 billion per year for the expansion.
Current Laws regarding Medicaid & Medicare in Virginia are strict, and a family of three that makes more than $6,900 per year isn’t eligible for government-funded healthcare. Republican Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr voiced his opposition to the passage, stating that by allowing Medicaid expansion, the state is abandoning fiscal responsibility.
He faced severe criticism from advocacy groups, which he said was verbal abuse. Some behaviors he dealt with during the debate included people lying down in the front of his office with fake headstones and requesting that people blow their horns when passing by.