Three Republican delegates from Loudoun stood firm Monday night in their opposition to expanded Medicaid in Virginia, this despite a largely hostile, relentless audience lobbying in favor of extending the health care program to as many as 400,000 Virginians.
At a town hall-style forum at the Ashburn library, state Dels. Tag Greason (R-32nd), Randy Minchew (R-10th) and David LaRock (R-33rd) were deluged with questions about why they're fighting against Medicaid expansion.
The event was organized by the conservative political action group Americans for Prosperity, which invited only Republican lawmakers to attend and lead the forum. Democratic organizers, however, corralled pro-expansion supporters to Ashburn, enough so that the majority of the audience appeared to favor expansion.
As they've consistently done, the Republican lawmakers voiced doubt that the federal government will make good on its promise to fund Medicaid expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, the federal government has pledged to cover 100 percent of the expansion cost for the first three years and 90 percent of the expense thereafter.
The GOP delegates also cried foul on Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) for insisting that the state budget hinge on the approval of Medicaid expansion. The Medicaid battle in Virginia has led to a stalemate in finalizing a state budget. If lawmakers can't agree on a spending plan by June 30, state government would likely shut down in July.
“There is no current discussion on the budget right now … and I will tell you, that gives me great pause,” said Del. Greason, who is one of the budget conferees, or negotiators, selected to help reconcile a spending plan. “Your government right now is not negotiating the terms of a budget to try to get past this impasse.”
Greason said he is lobbying for the governor to call the conferees back to Richmond. “Put them in a room until we come up with a solution,” he said.
Audience members, through submitted questions, asked why the delegates wouldn't want to return billions of federal tax dollars sent to Washington to Virginia. Supporters of Medicaid expansion reason that states that have opted into Medicaid expansion are pulling from federal tax dollars paid by Virginians.
“The devil is in the details,” said Minchew. “What is the right vehicle by which those dollars can come back? … I like the concept of those dollars, taxed by our businesses from the federal government, coming back to Virginia. I absolutely do. But, to adopt a program that could have long-term, negative impacts to my commonwealth is something I'm not willing to do.”
Several audience members questioned what the Republican alternative to Medicaid expansion is. Given an estimated 1 million Virginians are without health insurance, how are lawmakers going to improve health care in the commonwealth, they asked.
The delegates responded mostly by speaking in general about implementing reforms to Medicaid and "decoupling" expansion from the state budget.
Medicaid expansion in some form has been endorsed by leading business groups, including the state chamber of commerce, and hospitals of various sizes, including Inova Loudoun.
Democratic state Sens. Barbara Favola (D-31st) and Jennifer Wexton (D-33rd) headlined a meeting at the Ashburn library before the Americans for Propserity forum. Favola and Wexton were quick to point out they were not invited to the AFP town hall, but thanked the liberal-leaning ProgressVA and NARAL Virginia for hosting the pro-expansion rally beforehand.
“As you know, we have a broken health care system. We are in a situation where many people are falling into the coverage gap,” Wexton said. “The House of Delegates refuses to even talk about this issue. Their budget includes $118 million to continue to subsidize emergency room treatment for the sickest people."
|A pro-Medicaid expansion speaker addressed several state delegates from Loudoun in Ashburn April 28. Times-Mirror Photo/Rick Wasser|