Despite a rocky beginning, the General Assembly signaled enough support this year for an expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Health Care Act. But after attempts to expand health care, legislators have come to an impasse.
The General Assembly adjourned Saturday, March 10, without passing the state budget, which would have opened the door for Medicaid expansion. Gov. Ralph Northam has scheduled a special session in which legislators will come back to Richmond and hash out a final budget.
The two chambers presented vastly different budgets in February. The House of Delegates proposed a budget that would expand Medicaid to nearly 400,000 individuals across Virginia. The Senate did not include expansion and rejected an amendment that would have added it.
“Virginians sent us to Richmond to work together to make life better for every family, no matter who they are or where they live. We can live up to that responsibility by passing a budget that expands health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need it,” said Northam in a statement. “Expanding coverage will also generate savings that we can invest in education, workforce training, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and a healthy cash balance to prepare for fiscal downturns.”
The special session is scheduled for April 11 and will determine if Medicaid is expanded in Virginia this year. If legislators continue to disagree, a government shutdown can occur if the state spending plan isn’t in place by July 1.
“We are all committed to completing work on a state budget long before July 1,” said Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights. “But after a lengthy and tiring session, the best step is for everyone to turn home as we assess our next steps.”
According to a poll published at the beginning of this year, 83 percent Virginians support expanding Medicaid. Virginians rallied outside of the Capitol, asking legislators to support Medicaid expansion, including a Roanoke Valley emergency room physician, who said he treats too many people who cannot afford the medication they need.
After key Republican lawmakers, such as Speaker of the House Cox and Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, started to dialogue in support of expansion with a requirement that recipients must be employed or seeking employment, expansion found its way into the House budget.
Democrats are standing firm in negotiations, Northam made it clear that if he doesn’t receive a bill that includes Medicaid expansion, he will propose an amendment that does. The amendment, however, would look more like traditional expansion and not include a work requirement.
Northam said he intends to ensure that Virginia passes a budget that expands coverage as quickly as possible once the special session convenes. He and the Secretary of Finance, Aubrey Layne, said they will be working with members and staff of the General Assembly during the time between the two sessions.