Va. House, Senate put forth budget proposals — but only one includes Medicaid expansion

Credit: WAVY/Rob Rizzo

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Medicaid expansion is closer than ever in Virginia.

The House of Delegates included a form of expansion in its budget proposal after years of opposition.

Expansion could bring coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians and billions in federal funds.

Opponents have argued Medicaid is a broken program that is already far outpacing revenue in Virginia.

Aside from the wave of Democrats joining the House this year, House Republicans said they were motivated by what’s happening in our nation’s capital.

The Trump Administration has approved waivers for things like work requirements and co-pays.

“So the timing was right in that regard and we can get the safeguards we feel will protect the taxpayer,” said Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

House Speaker Kirk Cox has made it clear that he, too, wants a work requirement and co-pay before any compromise. According to his spokesperson, he shared those principles with Gov. Ralph Northam.

Medicaid expansion has been a main priority for the Democratic governor. Northam had been pushing straightforward expansion, without the reforms Republicans are backing.

However, following Sunday’s budget announcement from the House, Northam said this is a step in the right direction.

“I respect the priorities of the House majority,” he said in part in his statement. “And I am encouraged by and supportive of our work together to bring about a new ‘Virginia Way’ on Medicaid. We can and should expand coverage and provide significant training resources, counseling, and incentives to connect Virginians with employment opportunities.”

The House’s roughly $100 billion two-year spending plan also includes a 2 percent raise for teachers and state workers.

The Senate chose not to include Medicaid expansion in its budget proposal released Sunday.

“At this point, at least, we don’t have a consensus that’s the direction we want to go,” explained Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Mount Solon).

Hanger is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

“Even without expanding Medicaid in the Senate budget, we were able to target mental health, substance abuse, some of the areas we’ve been recommending in the mental health commission as we move forward,” said Hanger.

Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate 21-19, but there appears to be enough support to pass expansion in the Senate in an up-or-down vote.

Hanger supports Medicaid expansion and Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, also a supporter, would be the one to cast any tie-breaking vote.

“I think we’ll get there eventually. That’s my opinion,” said Hanger. “I certainly am going to work toward that goal, but we also have a good base budget to work from.”

The last day of session is March 10.