Senate budget reinstates Marketplace Virginia

By Liz Butterfield
Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The battle for a passable Virginia budget continues in the General Assembly after the Senate passed a budget bill Tuesday that the House of Delegates likely will reject.

The Senate form of the budget, Senate Bill 5003, includes the private health care plan Marketplace Virginia and removes the Medicaid-expansion pilot program proposed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The contentious Marketplace Virginia plan is estimated to save the state $225 million over the next two years by expanding health coverage to about 400,000 uninsured Virginians. The estimated $1.7 billion used to fund the plan would come from federal dollars.

Adults stuck in the gap between 50 to 100 percent above the poverty level are unable to qualify for either Medicaid or for the federal insurance option. The Marketplace Virginia plan would be an alternative option to sending Virginian dollars to Washington, according to some supporters of the plan.

“We have proposed a private insurance option called Marketplace Virginia,” said Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Glen Allen. “The governor has proposed to expand Medicaid as a means of closing [the] coverage gap, and based upon the work of our conferees and co-chair [Sen. Charles] Colgan and myself, we will be reinserting Marketplace Virginia into our budget proposal.”

Senate Finance committee member Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, was questioned Monday afternoon by House members during a Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission meeting. Watkins presented the Marketplace Virginia option to the MIRC meeting as an alternative to expanding Medicaid. Virginia has spent about $1.2 billion since 2004 in “indigent health costs,” Watkins said.

One of the limitations to expanding Medicaid coverage for Virginians, or opting for a Marketplace Virginia plan, is the assurance for continued federal dollars beyond 2017.

Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel, who also presented at the MIRC meeting, said McAuliffe would support either a Medicaid expansion or the Marketplace Virginia option.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said whatever the reiteration, the project is still a form of Medicaid expansion. “The whole marketplace concept to me is a misnomer,” Cox said. “It’s misleading.”

Cox also called the Senate’s plan a “delaying tactic. We’re puzzled somewhat by why they keep switching their version,” Cox said. Cox said he thinks the Senate eventually will amend the House budget bill. He also suggested a special session to specifically address the Medicaid-expansion issue.

“We’re not going to pick up the Senate budget,” Cox said. “They need to send the House bill amended, back over.”

The Senate voted 22-15 Tuesday in support of the new budget bill. Sens. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, and Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach — who voted against the bill in committee — also opposed the bill in the full Senate vote.

Sens. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Stephen Newman, R-Forest, were not in attendance for the vote.

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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