McAuliffe returns to Northern Va. to stump for Medicaid expansion
He employed that part of his resume last Thursday in Manassas, only this time stumping for a policy proposal of expanded Medicaid coverage instead of a political campaign.
The governor stopped by the brand new Evergreen Terrance Greater Prince William Community Health Center, which opened March 10 off of Liberia Road in the same building that hosts the Continental Event Center.
McAuliffe touted the benefits of allowing more low-income Virginians who currently do not qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance into the program. His stated goal is to expand Medicare coverage under the federal health care reform law to what he routinely claims would be up to 400,000 Virginians who currently lack insurance.
State Sen. George Barker (D-39th), who welcomed McAuliffe to the 39th District, said in a separate interview Friday that the number is actually between 330,000 and 360,000.
The new Medicaid proposal would allow Virginians who earn up to 138 percent of the poverty line to receive the insurance provided jointly by the federal and state governments.
Democratic legislators and the governor point out that the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the cost of expansion at first and 90 percent later. Republicans say they don't trust the federal government will live up to its end of the deal long-term.
"If we don't bring this money back, clinics will close. Hospitals will close," said McAuliffe, later adding, "Every day we wait, we forfeit $5.2 million (from the federal government) each and every day."
The former National Democratic Committee chairman and deputy treasurer, Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee finance director and six-time presidential campaign hand made it a point to decry politics invading the legislative process while singling out the GOP-led lower chamber for blocking expansion.
"Unfortunately, it is the Republicans in the House of Delegates who won't even sit and talk about this," said the governor.
McAuliffe praised a budget amendment introduced by state Sen. John Watkins (R-10th) and also supported by state Sen. Walter Stosch (R-12th) and Emmett Hanger, Jr. (R-24th) along with the entire Democratic caucus.
The Senate budget includes language that would create a private-based "Marketplace Virginia" exchange that would have the same effect as Medicaid expansion, a compromise supported by McAuliffe.
Two of the key figures in Medicaid discussions represent different parts of Manassas: Barker and state Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-29th) the president pro tempore of the upper chamber.
Barker specializes in health care legislation and generally has one of the lowest futility ratings of any Democratic senator, meaning that his bills tend to make it out of committee and have a legitimate chance to become law.
Colgan, 87, is a 10-term state senator first elected in 1975 after serving as Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman and Gainesville District supervisor.
He co-chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, allowing him a spot on the conference committee that is charged with reconciling differences between the competing House and Senate budgets.
Joining the governor was Virginia Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Hazel Jr., a Republican holdover from the McDonnell administration who supports expanding Medicaid and who mentioned Colgan by name during his own speech.
"We can give Sen. Colgan and the Finance Committee half a billion dollars back," said Hazel. "He'd like that."
"That's why I'm here," replied Colgan to laughs.
On March 5, 2013, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) wrote to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that Medicaid spending makes up "nearly 21 percent" of General Fund spending.
Democrats argue that the figure means the budget and Medicaid are intertwined, which means there can't or shouldn't be separate votes on the budget and Medicaid expansion.
The Newport New Daily Press noted in an article published online March 15 that only Georgia and Idaho have “lower caps" for Medicaid coverage than Virginia.
Though the county's two Democratic senators were in attendance Friday, the two House Republicans representing Manassas were not: state House Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-50th) and state Del. Bob Marshall (R-13th), both of whom voted against Medicaid expansion last month.
Marshall is running for the Republican nomination in the 10th Congressional District. Miller last flirted with a run for state Senate in 2011 before Colgan opted for another term.
In lieu of the delegates, Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish (R) was in attendance, as were other city officials from Manassas and Manassas Park.
One debate among Democratic legislators in Richmond has centered on whether the governor has the authority to enact Medicaid expansion himself with an executive order.
While Barker and state Del. Michael Futrell (D-2nd) both said Thursday they weren't sure what the ruling was on that, Colgan shot down the possibility.
"He doesn't have the power to do it on his own," said Colgan, adding that McAuliffe "needs the General Assembly" to approve the funding.
Futrell said he favors not just Medicaid expansion, but the upper chamber's entire budget proposal compared to the House one.
"The Senate bill makes more sense for my district as a whole," he said, adding that it includes more money for education too.
McAuliffe heard first-hand from some uninsured local residents, including several Spanish-speaking immigrants who spoke to the governor through an English translator.
One 48-year-old man recalled how he would have to pay $2,500 for a procedure out of pocket by going to the emergency room. Another 31-year resident of the U.S. said he opted to fly back to El Salvador for a procedure, saying it was cheaper to buy a $600 plane ticket than pay $5,000 at a local emergency room.
Catherine Brooks, who described herself as an unemployed 54-year-old from Woodbridge, shed tears as she told McAuliffe that she depends on the Greater Prince William Community Health Center facility in Woodbridge for her medical care.
"I'm emotional because I have no coverage," Brooks said, explaining how she qualified for a plan that would cost $250 a month but came with a $5,000 deductible.
A Latino woman with a child on her lap mentioned through the interpreter than her stepfather, a Navy veteran who smoked and had weight problems, suffered from severe depression and eventually died at age 53 before he could receive care.
McAuliffe cited that story later to the press assembled outside of the room, but promised the woman and others seated at the tables near him that, "We are going to fight to get this done," regarding Medicaid expansion.
"We are going to get this done for you," he added. "You have my word on that."