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Medicaid battle heats up
McAuliffe, GOP are squaring off

Sunday, March 30, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The battle between Democrats who want to expand Medicaid and Republicans calling for a clean budget has moved out of Richmond and into the communities of Virginia.

As Gov. Terry McAuliffe was in Franklin County on Friday to promote the expansion, Republican lawmakers Bill Stanley and Charles Poindexter were close on his heels, condemning the idea.

The sparring seems to have intensified since the Senate abruptly left Richmond last week after meeting in a special session of the General Assembly, according to Sen. Stanley, R-Glade Hill.

“They just packed up their tents and went home” until April 7, he said. “It was absolutely irresponsible. There is no reason for a two-week delay” unless Senate Democrats needed the time “to strategize” their next move.

He said the Senate was “very much in agreement with Marketplace Virginia,” an alternative to the Medicaid expansion that would help 400,000 people buy insurance from private companies at a discounted rate.

Currently people enrolled in Medicaid do not pay a premium for coverage.

Senators were not expecting McAuliffe’s proposal to make the expansion a two-year pilot program, Stanley said. When he unveiled the proposal Monday, the governor said he would pull the plug after two years if the expansion wasn’t helping the state.

“The Republicans in the House of Delegates say they won’t even entertain discussing it, which I just don’t understand,” McAuliffe said Friday in Rocky Mount, according to the Franklin News-Post. “You can’t compromise if one side won’t even sit down to the table.”

McAuliffe argues that expanding Medicaid would make 400,000 low-income Virginians eligible for the program and would not cost the state money. That is because the Obama administration has pledged to cover the full costs of expansion for three years and at least 90 percent of the costs thereafter.

“Over the next eight years, we will ship $26 billion out of the pockets of Virginia taxpayers across the Potomac River over to Washington D.C. That’s going to happen,” he said.

“We’ll get about $6 billion back automatically through the exchange. The issue is the other $20 billion,” the governor said. “We can bring this money back, provide healthcare for 400,000 people and create 30,000 new jobs. This should not be a partisan political issue. This is morally and socially the right thing to do. It’s also, economically, a no-brainer.”

Republicans do not trust the federal government to deliver on that promise.

Stanley opposes the governor’s proposal.

“A pilot program, by its very nature, is something you put into a couple of cities to see if it works,” Stanley said. Health care is too serious to approve a two-year pilot expansion and then take that coverage away if the funding does not continue, he said.

“It’s just not fair, and I think it would be fraught with peril,” especially to those it was supposed to help, Stanley said.

Del. Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, is a member of the Medicaid Innovation & Reform Commission (MIRC) created last year to review the current program and find ways to improve it.

“Virginia’s current Medicaid program is in desperate need of reforms to improve health outcomes and make the program more fiscally sustainable,” he said Friday. “... This proposal (to expand Medicaid) has enormous fiscal ramifications for Virginia, for our core programs like education and public safety, and for taxpayers.”

He cited a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday that showed that only 4 percent of surveyed Virginians think Medicaid expansion is a top priority.

McAuliffe is “starting to realize he’s out on his own tree limb here, and now he’s trying to pull everyone else out there with him,” Poindexter said less than 24 hours after he, Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham, and seven other GOP delegates from around Virginia discussed the Medicaid expansion/budget issue during a telephone town hall meeting.

A majority of the nearly 3,000 people polled Thursday seemed to side with Republicans, as they pressed “1” or “2” on the telephone keypad to respond to a series of three questions. Results were quickly tabulated and shared.

According to Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave,who was the moderator for much of the town hall meeting, 87 percent of participants said they opposed the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and 13 percent supported it.

The majority — 94 percent of the 2,730 participants — also are opposed to using the budget and threatening a government shutdown to expand Medicaid, while only 6 percent supported using the budget as a bargaining chip, according to the results reported.

McAuliffe has made Medicaid expansion part of the budget process over the objections of Republicans, who want to pass a so-called “clean” budget free of the expansion issue.

More than half of respondents — 68 percent — said they either had a negative experience with Obamacare or knew someone who did, while 32 percent did not experience a problem or have knowledge of anyone who did, according to the response reported.


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