Gridlock over: Lawmakers approve Medicaid expansion

Gridlock over: Lawmakers approve Medicaid expansion

Gridlock over: Lawmakers approve Medicaid expansion

Virginia's state Senate voted Wednesday in favor of a plan that would expand the state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in a move that shows the resiliency of the landmark healthcare law.

Sen. Mark Obernshain, R-Rockingham, countered that one aspect of the bill, a hospital tax to fund the state's portion of expansion, was tantamount to an increase in the income tax "That's a $600 million a year tax increase that is going to get passed straight through", he said. Lawmakers could either give final approval or reconcile differences in a conference committee. And should Republicans successfully repeal the ACA, Virginia's Medicaid expansion will end, under the bill's language.

Back in February, 19 Republican delegates joined the 49 Democrats in the state's lower chamber to pass a budget that included Medicaid expansion.

The Senate passed it 23-17, with four Republicans joining the Democrats.

Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, who represents the 10th District, said from the House floor Wednesday that she was happily waiting to vote yes on the budget "with pleasure and pride".

Virginia's House of Delegates voted to approve Medicaid expansion during the regular 60-day legislative session that ended in March. The expansion vote was a part of the two-year state budget set to take effect July 1.

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In an odd twist, it was the Virginia Senate - traditionally the more moderate chamber and the one that had backed expansion in previous years with help from two now-retired moderate Republicans - that had remained dug in.

Lawmakers debated the issue for hours before casting a final vote. It will invest in schools, workforce training, public safety, and an economy that works better for every Virginian, no matter who they are or where they live. He said his rural area needs expansion to bolster its hospitals and provide care for constituents.

"Just to be certain, I'm leaving", he said with a chuckle.

"This is not just about helping this group of people", said Sen.

A federal-state collaboration originally meant for poor families and severely disabled people, Medicaid has grown to become the largest government health insurance program, now covering 1 in 5 people.

The Virginia vote comes at a crucial vote for Medicaid expansion and the broader ACA in general.

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President Donald Trump has vigorously sought to negate his predecessor's health law.

Yet ironically, his administration's embrace of work requirements for low-income people on Medicaid prompted lawmakers in some conservative states to resurrect plans for expansion.

But Virginia GOP Speaker Kirk Cox said the Trump administration's openness to conservative reforms, including work requirements, "was probably the biggest key" in getting Republican support for Medicaid expansion this year.

Republican holdouts in the Senate saw the carnage previous year when Democrats flipped 15 House seats, but they were insulated since they were not on the ballot. The requirement would have replaced the two-track Hanger proposal, which would allow the state to immediately seek amendment of Virginia's Medicaid plan to begin accepting enhanced federal funding to expand the program on January 1.

Correction: A prior version of this story misstated the party that controls the Virginia House of Delegates.

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