Virginia General Assembly votes to expand Medicaid

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — UPDATE (8:20 p.m.):

Virginia's governor is set to sign legislation in coming days expanding Medicaid after the state's Republican-controlled General Assembly ignored warnings from the White House against expanding the health care program for the poor.

The state Senate voted Wednesday in favor of a state budget that expands Medicaid. The House, which had had previously endorsed expansion, gave its final approval shortly thereafter. Several Republicans in both chambers joined with Democrats to approve the measure.

Ironically, Republican lawmakers said it was the Trump administration's embrace of work requirements for low-income people on Medicaid that help get the measure passed after years of partisan battles.

Expanding Medicaid was a key provision of then-President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which President Donald Trump has vigorously sought to negate. White House officials, including budget director Mick Mulvaney, urged Virginia lawmakers this year not to expand Medicaid. Trump's recent budget proposal calls for repealing Medicaid expansion, and Mulvaney said the administration is "committed to addressing the unsustainable growth" of the program.

But Virginia GOP Speaker Kick 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.

And a failure by the GOP-led Congress to repeal and replace the health law helped spur several Republican state legislators to flip positions.

"There's always talk of repealing Obamacare; that did not happen," Cox said.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's expected signature should enable roughly 400,000 newly eligible low-income Virginias to begin enrolling in Medicaid at the start of next year. A tally from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows Virginia will become the 33rd state to approve Medicaid expansion

The Senate passed it 23-17, with four Republicans joining the Democrats. The House endorsed it about an hour later with a lopsided 67-31 vote.

It took more than four years of battles over whether Virginia should expand the publicly funded health care program for the poor. In 2014 and again this year, the fight led to standoffs over the state budget.

But Republicans took notice when Democrats campaigned heavily on expanding Medicaid last year and made unexpectedly large gains, reshaping the state legislature in an anti-Trump wave. Some were eager to take the issue off the table before next year's election, when both House and Senate seats are up

Virginia Democrats have argued the state should not pass up the roughly $2 billion in extra federal funding the program would bring to the state. Republicans had previously been near unified in blocking past expansion efforts, saying the long-term costs were unsustainable.

In the final hours, Sen. Ben Chafin, a Republican lawmaker from Virginia's economically depressed southwest coal country, announced his support for expansion on the Senate floor. He said his rural area needs expansion to bolster its hospitals and provide care for constituents.

"I came to the conclusion that no just wasn't the answer anymore," Chafin said.

Several Republican senators remained strongly opposed, saying Medicaid costs would eventually overwhelm the rest of the state's budget needs for schools and public safety.

"It is a ticking time bomb," said GOP Sen. Bill Stanley.

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ORIGINAL (May 30):

Virginia's lawmakers have taken a step closer to expanding Medicaid.

On Wednesday, the commonwealth's Senate voted 23-17 to approve a budget for the state that includes Medicaid expansion.

This comes after months of delay ahead of a budget deadline for the state government.

The bill now heads to the House of Delegates, who voted for Medicaid expansion earlier this year, to be approved.

If delegates again vote in favor of the bill, which had amendments added by the Senate, it would head to Governor Ralph Northam's desk.

One of Northam's major campaign goals was to expand Medicaid for Virginia — a goal his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, had but could not achieve with Republican majorities in the General Assembly.

The expansion would open Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income adults in Virginia.

A tally from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows Virginia will become the 33rd state to approve Medicaid expansion. Expanding Medicaid was a key provision of the Affordable Care Act pushed by former President Barack Obama.

Democrats have pushed unsuccessfully for years to expand Medicaid in Virginia. Several state Republicans, including Augusta County's Emmett Hanger, dropped their opposition this year, saying the state would be better off with increased federal funding for the program.

“I’m thrilled that the Virginia Senate has decided partisan politics should no longer stand in the way of thousands of Virginia families getting the healthcare they need," said Sen. Mark Warner. "I look forward to the House of Delegates soon doing the same. Governor Northam and supporters of Medicaid expansion should be proud of this bipartisan achievement, but the real winners here are the hardworking Virginians who will finally have healthcare for their families.”

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Virginia lawmakers are set to end a budget stalemate and pass Medicaid expansion.

Both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly are scheduled to meet Wednesday to take up a state budget plan that expands the publicly funded health care program for the poor. About 400,000 low-income adults would be newly eligible.

Democrats have pushed unsuccessfully for years to expand Medicaid in Virginia. Several state Republicans dropped their opposition this year, saying the state would be better off with increased federal funding for the program.

Pro-expansion lawmakers have a majority in both chambers, and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is a strong proponent of expansion.

A tally from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Virginia will become the 33rd state to approve Medicaid expansion.