Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new state budget into law Thursday that will expand Medicaid to as many as 400,000 low-income adults, scoring a signature legislative win just months into office.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters from the steps of the state Capitol, Northam said the bipartisan compromise that led to Medicaid expansion’s passage shows that Republicans and Democrats at the state level aren’t politically polarized as they are nationally.
“Chaos and partisan warfare may dominate Washington, but here in Richmond we still work together to do the right thing for our people, not our political party,” said Northam.
The Democratic governor won election last year on promises to expand Medicaid and reach across the aisle.
Expanding Medicaid was a key provision of then-President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was optional for states. Virginia will become the 33rd state to expand, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
State Republicans rejected efforts to expand Medicaid in Virginia for years, saying the program’s costs were unsustainable. But that near unanimous opposition crumbled this year, and several Republicans joined with Democrats to pass a budget last week that included expanding the health care program for the poor.
GOP Sen. Emmett Hanger credited Northam’s low-key approach to getting Republican support this year.
“Gov. Northam is someone that I don’t agree with quite frequently, but I trust him,” Hanger said.
President Donald Trump has vigorously sought to negate his predecessor’s health care law. And White House officials, including budget director Mick Mulvaney, have urged Virginia lawmakers this year not to expand Medicaid.
But it was Trump’s embrace of work requirements for low-income people on Medicaid that helped prompt some Virginia GOP lawmakers to support expansion. And a GOP-led Congress’ inability to repeal Obama’s health care law last year also helped convince Virginia Republicans that the time was right to expand Medicaid.
The Northam administration expects to begin enrolling new Medicaid recipients at the start of next year. Virginia officials previously estimated that only about 300,000 people out of 400,000 eligible would actually sign up for the coverage. The cutoff is 138 percent of the poverty level, which is about $30,000 a year for an adult in a three-member household.
The newly passed state budget also includes raises for state workers and teachers.