After Messy Battle, Virginia Legislature Rejects Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

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The Virginia legislature passed a budget Thursday night that rejected the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, potentially the end of one of the most bitter Medicaid fights in the country.

Virginia’s Republicans adamantly oppose adopting the Medicaid expansion made possible by the federal health-care law, but Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe promised to keep fighting. The expansion would expand Medicaid health coverage to those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, initially funded by federal taxpayers. State taxpayers will cover a growing share up to 10 percent of the program’s cost in subsequent years.

The budget included an amendment stating that the executive branch cannot expand Medicaid unless the legislature appropriates the money for it, an addition meant to prevent McAuliffe from accepting the expansion by executive fiat.

“When this budget reaches my desk I will evaluate it carefully and take the actions that I deem necessary, but this fight is far from over,” McAuliffe said in a statement just after the vote. “This is the right thing to do for Virginia, and I will not rest until we get it done.

State politicians have been battling over accepting the Medicaid expansion for months, but Republicans gained control of the state senate Monday when a Democratic state senator resigned from a previously evenly split chamber. Sen. Phil Puckett resigned Monday amid reports that he’s being considered for a top job with the Republican-controlled state tobacco commission.

McAuliffe will have to accept the budget by June 30, when the current spending plan ends, in order to avert a government shutdown. The ongoing struggle over whether or not to accept the Medicaid expansion has brought the state government very close to a shutdown, with Attorney General Mark Herring recently hiring a constitutional law expert as an adviser, the Washington Post reported in late May.

Ironically enough, the one Democratic senator, Sen. Lynwood Lewis, that joined Republicans to pass the budget said Friday that his vote was a mistake — but the flub would not have affected the outcome of the vote. 

If the legislature’s plan sticks, Virginia brings the tally of states that rejected the Medicaid expansion up to 22, largely Republican-controlled states. Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence is the latest to reach a deal with the Obama administration to adopt its own version of the Medicaid expansion, under the guise of expanding the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan, sparking significant criticism from conservatives.

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