Lawmakers return to consider budget, Medicaid expansion

Lawmakers return to consider budget, Medicaid expansion

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - State lawmakers were back in town Wednesday to start work again on the state budget after they failed to pass one during session this year. At issue is whether to expand Medicaid to cover 400,000 more low income Virginians under the Affordable Care Act.

House Speaker Kirk Cox (R - Colonial Heights) says he's confident they'll pass a budget before the July first deadline, avoiding a government shut down. That's because he says the House will likely pass a similar budget with Medicaid expansion to the one they they passed during session.

Two Republican Senators could be the determining votes to pass a budget with Medicaid expansion in the Senate.

Twenty-one-year-old Will Ares is someone who's watching this decision closely. He lives a common college life. The John Tyler Community College student says it's tough to make ends meet. He says he can't afford health insurance and doesn't presently qualify for Medicaid.

"I fall in a criteria that is if you're over 18 and don't have kids, you're automatically put in this gap," Ares explains.

He says he needs Medicaid coverage expanded to cover people like himself. He hasn't seen a doctor in years and worries an emergency could drown him in debt.

"I don't want to walk away with $15,000 to $25,000 in a big bill that I have to pay over the rest of my life," Ares told us.

House Speaker Kirk Cox says the House budget is expected to again include a work requirement for some Medicaid recipients, countering the Governor's call for "clean" expansion without the requirement.

In fact, Cox says, "I do think you'll see a strengthened work requirement. That is something that is pretty important."

Governor Northam says he's open to negotiation. He said in an interview Tuesday, "I wanted a clean Medicaid expansion. We negotiated. We now have a work search where we help individuals get back into the workforce."

Two Republican Senators say they'll support expansion with provisions, but Senate Republican leadership is still concerned about costs and a proposed tax on hospitals.

"It still doesn't do anything to assess premiums for working individuals who are trying to afford insurance and still does nothing for their deductibles," said Senator Ryan McDougle (R - Hanover).

Meantime, Ares hopes he and others will have health coverage soon.

"For a lot of people, it's life or death. And it's one of those, it's not a bill about miscellaneous things. People's lives are depending on it," said Ares.

Speaker Cox says he hopes the House will pass a budget when it reconvenes on Tuesday and send it to the Senate.

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