Capitol moves closer to a showdown, House rejects Medicaid plan - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Capitol moves closer to a showdown, as House rejects Medicaid expansion


In an overwhelming vote, the Virginia House of Delegates rejected an expansion of Medicaid, setting the stage for a showdown on the final passage of the state budget. At issue is whether to extend Medicaid benefits to 400,000 Virginians, who struggle to afford quality health insurance.

The 67-32 vote Thursday evening leaves the House and Senate at odds, after the upper chamber voted to expand Medicaid. Now both sides have just over two weeks to bridge the divide, with the possibility of a Virginia government shutdown if Gov. Terry McAuliffe does not sign the budget.

"Maybe I'm the ultimate optimist here, but I believe we're going to get it done," said Gov. McAuliffe in an interview Tuesday. "Because to me, [expanding Medicaid] makes so much common sense."

Democratic lawmakers are seeking to expand coverage to thousands of Virginians – people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy quality healthcare. Republicans oppose the move, citing the need to reform the program before expansion occurs.

If expansion is ultimately approved, Medicaid benefits would be allowed for people who are just above the poverty level – families of four with incomes of $23,850 or lower. In a series of interviews Thursday, several Richmond families said the help from Medicaid expansion would be welcomed.

"You can't make it on $24 thousand," said Southside Richmond resident Gloria Eberhardt. "That's poverty. We need some extra help."

Republican leaders have expressed sympathy, but said that spending on the health program has spiraled out of control.

"It's grown over 1,600 percent over the past 30 years," said Speaker William Howell. "It's growing at about 8 percent a year now."

The federal government has offered to pay for most of Virginia's $2 billion annual Medicaid costs, but there is concern that Washington may not be able to keep its promise in the years ahead.

A group of lawmakers will now meet to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate budgets, including whether or not expansion of health benefits can happen. The 2014 General Assembly session will adjourn March 8.

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