Local General Assembly members voice mixed feelings on Medicaid expansion

jojacobs@vagazette.com

Whether Medicaid expansion is a historic achievement or a disaster in the making depends on who you ask. The Historic Triangle’s representatives in the General Assembly split along party lines in their reaction to expansion.

The General Assembly adopted a budget that included Medicaid expansion, which opens coverage to about 400,000 low-income Virginians, Wednesday. The budget passed on a 23-17 vote in the Senate, where four Republicans joined the Senate’s 19 Democrats to cast yes votes.

Sen. Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment, R-James City, wasn’t among those Republicans who supported the budget.

“Today, the General Assembly approved a budget that abandons Virginia’s long-standing reputation for fiscal responsibility,” Norment said in a statement Wednesday.

“Having been told for years that Obamacare Medicaid expansion would solve all our health care woes, those currently paying for their own insurance will receive yet another sticker shock this fall,” Norment said.

Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, painted a rosier picture.

“I’m glad thousands of Virginia families will soon be able to wake up knowing their loved ones can get the medical care they need. Thousands of Virginians will also soon be able to wake up to jobs in the new expanded medical economy. But most of all, it’s simply the right thing to do,” Mason said in a statement posted to Facebook Thursday.

Norment also lamented Gov. Ralph Northam’s veto of bills Republican senators offered as health care solutions.

“We passed a package of bills that would have offered Virginians more affordable health care options. Governor Northam vetoed those bills,” Norment said.

In the House of Delegates, 18 members of the GOP voted with the house’s 49 Democrats to pass the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget 67-31. With both chambers’ approval, the budget goes to Northam for his signature.

Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, hailed expansion as a bipartisan victory for Virginians.

“I think this will be the most consequential thing I do as a legislator,” Mullin said.

Mullin said he expects Medicaid expansion to roll out smoothly, saying Virginia is preceded by 32 states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid and that those expansions “worked out well.”

Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Norge, challenged that notion, saying other states underestimated what enrollment levels would be when they expanded Medicaid. She said the expansion isn’t fiscally responsible and that it’s unclear what the future of federal funding is for the program.

“I think that it is fiscally irresponsible for us to expand Medicaid,” Pogge said. “Virginia has taken the leap of faith. In two years, where will we be?”

The federal government has pledged to pay 90 percent of Medicaid costs under the Affordable Care Act.

Passage of Medicaid expansion also brings an end a personal pledge by Mullin. The delegate joined other legislators in growing a “budget beard,” resolving not to shave it off until Medicaid expansion passed. The beard comes off Saturday, Mullin said.

“My wife Laura hated it and I think was rooting for expansion more than anyone in Virginia,” Mullin said with a laugh.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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