Gov. Ralph Northam has vetoed four bills he contends would undermine Virginia’s health insurance marketplace and raise premiums — the same problems that Republican senators say the proposals would address for people who can no longer afford health insurance.
However, the governor signed legislation on Friday to generate $154 million a year for the state’s share of money to repair the deteriorated Metro transit system that serves Northern Virginia, even though the General Assembly had rejected his amendments on the sources of the funding. He also signed legislation to reinstate a tax credit to support jobs for production of metallurgical coal in Southwest Virginia.
In vetoing the Senate health insurance bills on Friday, Northam said the state should seek a more comprehensive solution to problems that have caused premiums to soar for individuals and small businesses purchasing coverage in the commercial marketplace.
“This legislation would place consumers at risk of being underinsured and would fragment Virginia’s federal marketplace risk pool, leading to rapidly increasing premiums,” the governor said in each veto.
Northam said the solution should begin with expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, which he said had lowered commercial premiums in other states that have expanded, while boosting employment and wages.
“We are fortunate to have a better opportunity to expand health care to people who need it and make it more affordable for all Virginians,” he said in each veto statement.
Two bills sponsored by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, would have allowed the creation of nonprofit “benefits consortiums” and sponsoring associations to offer health plans, and a third that she co-sponsored with Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, would have allowed purchase of short-term policies of up to 364 days, with federal approval.
Northam called the short-term plans “stopgap policies that frequently” don’t cover mental health treatment and other needs.
“People with minimal current health care needs are more likely to purchase these skimpy plans, leaving people who have more significant health care needs in the marketplace,” he said, estimating that the plans would increase marketplace premiums by more than 19 percent.
Similarly, he said legislation proposed by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, to allow more people to purchase low-cost, high-deductible “catastrophic” health plans would undermine marketplace risk pools and raise premiums. Catastrophic health plans currently are limited to people under 30 years old who would pay lower premiums for insurance with deductibles of more than $7,000 a year.
Northam said Dunnavant’s other bills would circumvent consumer protections in state law and the ACA while failing to cover essential health benefits.
“Moreover, association plans will be able to discriminate by charging them more because of characteristics like gender and occupation,” he said.
Northam amended the bills in early April to require their re-enactment by the General Assembly next year before taking effect.
His amendments also would have created a work group led by Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey to study the state’s options for solving what the governor described as a national problem in the individual insurance market created by political fighting in Washington over the future of the ACA.
The Senate rejected the amendments on April 18 when it reconvened for the so-called veto session to consider gubernatorial actions on legislation adopted during the 60-day session that adjourned on March 10.
Northam vetoed a handful of other bills, including redistricting legislation that would have established some anti-gerrymandering criteria in state law. The legislation would have declared in state code that districts should be compact and respect existing political boundaries between cities, counties and towns, preserving “communities of interest.” In his veto message, Northam said the bill didn’t go far enough because it didn’t include explicit prohibitions on race-based or political gerrymandering.
Northam also nixed legislation that would have required volunteers who help register others to vote to include their contact information on the voter application, a requirement Northam said could lead to more applications being rejected as incomplete.