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Medicaid expansion Lawmakers stick to budget rhetoric

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Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 2:30 pm, Tue Jul 22, 2014.

The rhetorical soap opera over Medicaid expansion went into reruns Friday with Virginia lawmakers and stakeholders reaffirming entrenched positions that have delayed passing a new state budget.

On one side of the Capitol, Democratic leaders promised that the Virginia Senate will not pass a budget that does not include some form of Medicaid expansion.

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“We won’t vote for a budget — and I can’t be emphatic enough — we will not vote for a budget, nor will the governor sign a budget that doesn’t have some form of expansion,” Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said during a brief conference call.

“We had an election where our ticket ran on this, especially the governor, and we won on it,” added Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico. “For the Republicans to think that they are just going to legislate out of existence 400,000 Virginians is just unwise.”

On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans made their dramatic exit Tuesday night, after passing their version of a state spending plan without considering the 104 budget amendments — including language allowing for Medicaid expansion — Gov. Terry McAuliffe submitted the day before.

The theatrical flourish was a handwritten sign, “Gone Home,” left at the entrance to the shuttered Virginia Senate, which had recessed Monday with a plan to air the governor’s amendments and their own version of the budget at a public hearing of the Senate Finance Committee this Tuesday.

“We wanted to give the public adequate time … to comment on both the governor’s amendments as well as whatever the House is sending us,” Saslaw said.

Saslaw on Friday promised a response to the House budget, “without all the theatrics.”

Democrats favor expansion, saying it will extend coverage to 400,000 uninsured Virginians — 70 percent of whom are employed. The governor has said expansion would save struggling hospitals in rural and urban areas, bring thousands of jobs and return billions in Virginia taxpayers’ money to the commonwealth between now and 2022.

House Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion, saying more reforms are necessary to the current program and casting doubts that the federal government will make good on its promise to fund expansion.

They say expansion should be debated later, and that it is necessary to pass a “clean budget” now in time for localities and public colleges and universities to set their own budgets before the close of the current fiscal year June 30.

The final version of the Democrat-controlled Senate’s expansion plan may end up being the private option, Marketplace Virginia proposal that the Senate approved in the regular General Assembly session with some GOP support — not the straight federal expansion two-year pilot proposal offered by McAuliffe last Monday.

“We’ve got a ways to go and certainly marketplace expansion is very viable,” Saslaw said. “I don’t know where we’ll wind up, but there certainly seems to be an awful lot of external support for that, but time will tell.”

To that end, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce released a letter that tries to redirect any debate over health care changes away from the straight government approach last offered by McAuliffe and toward the Marketplace Virginia proposal the Senate and its architect, Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, proffered earlier.

“The Virginia Chamber does not support expansion of the current Medicaid program without reforms,” wrote chamber President Barry E. DuVal in a letter to budget negotiators that the chamber released Friday.

“Virginia should reject a federally designed expansion of Medicaid in favor of an approach that encompasses the free market principles through a private option we put forward February 24.”

Tune in on Tuesday, when McEachin said he hopes the “people of Virginia” will weigh in at the Finance Committee hearing. The full Senate will reconvene April 7.

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