Virginia Lawmakers Are Building Themselves New Offices Instead Of Giving Health Care To Poor People

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Virginia residents assemble in favor of Medicaid expansion

Lawmakers in Virginia recently voted to spend $430 million dollars to build a new office building and parking deck for elected officials. And for health care advocates in the state, that number is particularly significant. It’s the same amount of money that Virginia has missed out on because of its refusal to accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), who has continued to push the legislature to expand Medicaid to 400,000 low-income Virginians, told a group of supporters on Friday that the state has now given up $430 million in federal funds by continuing to resist implementing this Obamacare provision. “Half a billion dollars of our tax money today is going to 27 other states,” McAuliffe explained. “This should come back run through our economy. I can create 30 thousand jobs.”

The health law allocates generous federal funding for the states that agree to expand their public insurance programs. Federal dollars will fund the full cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and at least 90 percent of the cost after that. So the GOP-controlled states that continue to resist this aspect of Obamacare are actually losing out on billions of dollars.

Business groups in the state, including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, have pushed hard for the expansion for exactly this reason. But it’s been a bitter political fight. The legislature was forced to convene a special session last week because elected officials can’t agree on Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers have even rejected McAuliffe’s proposal to temporarily expand the program for just two years. On Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers held the final public hearing on the issue.

Progressive groups in the state, including Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, are now working to highlight the discrepancy in lawmakers’ financial priorities.

“When we talk to women in Virginia, they tell us how they are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and that even one out-of-pocket medical bill could mean the difference between food on the table for their families or going without,” Cianti Stewart-Reid, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, told ThinkProgress in an email exchange. “Bringing the tax dollars of hard-working Virginians back to the Commonwealth and expanding Medicaid would mean that hundreds of thousands of hardworking women and families would have access to quality health care when they need it, without facing devastating medical bills.”

Virginia is hardly the only state where this dynamic is unfolding. Across the country, the majority of the states where people struggle most to afford health care and medicine have refused to address this issue by implementing Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion. And some states are actively putting their health care resources elsewhere. Florida, for example, is considering spending millions of dollars to attract foreign patients — rather than using those funds to extend health care to its own low-income residents.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) initially predicted that Obamacare would extend health care to 17 million low-income Americans through its expansion of public health insurance. But, thanks to GOP-controlled states’ continued resistance to expanding Medicaid, the agency recently revised that figure down to just eight million.