Medicaid expansion battle foreshadows potential Va. government shutdown

By Colin Kennedy
Capital News Service

Virginia’s Republican-dominated House of Delegates and Democratic Senate both passed competing versions of a two-year, $96 billion state budget bill this past week, but not before the GOP reinforced its stern opposition to Medicaid expansion.

The Senate’s version (Senate Bill 30) would allow the commonwealth to use federal money to help provide health coverage for an estimated 250,000 uninsured Virginians through a private marketplace. But Republican legislators responded with a symbolic vote that supports a position the GOP has held for months.

 In what was the latest move in an endless case of party politics at the state Capitol, House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) proposed an amendment to add expanded Medicaid to budgetary House Bill 30 just moments before the chamber approved its version of the state budget.

As expected, the amendment that mirrored the Senate’s Medicaid expansion plan was rejected. However, Jones and the Republicans hope 67 votes against the provision strengthen their stance against federally backed health care expansion.

The emblematic move came less than a week after Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe openly criticized the House budget for failing to accept Medicaid expansion. The maneuver continues a partisan battle legislators on both sides of the aisle have warned may cause government impasse.

 An 11-person conference committee will meet to attempt to reconcile differences between the two budgets and will have until the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 to come up with a compromise. If nothing is settled by July 1, the state government will effectively shut down.

Republicans hinted at the prospect of a government shutdown last year when McAuliffe insisted he wouldn’t approve a state budget that didn’t include Medicaid expansion during his campaign. And less than two weeks before the General Assembly’s scheduled conclusion date of March 8, some legislators are confident the battle over Medicaid expansion will prolong the session at the very least.

“If it’s not the biggest issue, it is one of the biggest issues,” said Del. Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell). “I will be surprised if we get out of here on March 8. I’ll be surprised if we’re out of here by April 15.”

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

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