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    No Medicaid action Thursday in special session

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- There has been plenty of talking but little action Thursday as Virginia state lawmakers kicked off a special session to discuss whether the state's Medicaid program should expand.

    Republican leaders, who have stymied Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility since he took office in January, said they are holding a special session to discuss Medicaid expansion because they promised they would. But GOP leaders in the House made clear shortly after the lower chamber reconvened that their opposition hasn't wavered.

    "Government programs meant to lift people out of poverty simply haven't worked," said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox. "Nearly 50 years after we declared war on poverty, things are getting worse not better."

    Several Democrats panned the special session as a waste of time, and mocked Republicans for not having any alternative proposals.

    "Where's your plan?" said Arlington Democrat Del. Patrick A. Hope. "We need to get to work."

    The one-day cost of a special session is about $40,000 in per diems and mileage reimbursements, according to the House Clerk's office.

    Speaking to reporters early Thursday, McAuliffe said he remains optimistic that Republican lawmakers will change their minds.

    "Virginia should be a leader on health care," McAuliffe said. "We should be an engine, not a caboose."

    Under the Affordable Care Act, states decide whether to expand Medicaid, with the federal government promising to pick up most of the cost. Whether to expand public health care to about 400,000 low income able-bodied adults has been the key issue of McAuliffe's tenure. The governor and Democratic lawmakers say the state's economy needs the infusion of federal funds to help cover the cost of the care already being provided.

    Most Republican lawmakers say they don't believe the federal government will be able to keep its promise to pay and the state can't afford a large scale increase of an entitlement program.

    McAuliffe conceded earlier this month that his ability to expand Medicaid on his own is limited. He unveiled an alternative plan aimed at encouraging adults and children already eligible for publicly subsidized health care coverage to enroll in various programs. The state and the federal government would also each pay about $80 million a year to cover the costs of new coverage for 20,000 uninsured residents with a severe mental illness.

    The governor has also urged lawmakers to pass a modified expansion plan proposed by Republican Del. Tom Rust that emphasizes the use of private insurers. Rust is one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who have voiced support for expanding publicly funded health care. GOP House leaders have previously voiced opposition to Rust's bill and rejected similar modified Medicaid expansion plans.

    Top Republican lawmakers have defended the special session, noting that lawmakers will also vote on a bipartisan plan to cut the state budget and will vote to fill several judicial positions.

    The House voted 93-4 early Thursday afternoon to pass a bipartisan budget agreement that would help close a $2.4 billion revenue shortfall.


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