Virginia Governor Bucks GOP On Medicaid Expansion (UPDATED)

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"Virginia Governor Bucks GOP On Medicaid Expansion (UPDATED)"

Gov. Terry McAuliffe delivering his inaugural address.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe delivering his inaugural address.

CREDIT: AP Images/Patrick Semansky

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) plans to move forward with Medicaid expansion even without lawmakers’ support, the governor announced on Friday. The battle over Medicaid expansion has been particularly contentious in Virginia over the past several months, as McAuliffe been unable to convince the GOP-controlled legislature to move forward with implementing the policy even though it has bipartisan support in the state.

The governor announced his decision to expand Medicaid unilaterally during a press conference on Friday. He said he will use his executive power to expand Medicaid administratively, and asked the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to draw up plans for that project by the beginning of September. “I am moving forward,” he said, noting that lawmakers’ continued refusal to extend health care to an estimated 400,000 of the state’s poorest residents sends him “to bed every night with a pit in my stomach.” He called the GOP’s decision to block Medicaid expansion “unconscionable.”

Earlier this week, the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jeff Schapiro laid out what an administrative expansion might look like. Essentially, McAuliffe could enlist private businesses to execute the public program, a so-called “public-private partnership.” It’s a method the state has used before to finance a highway.

Although the governor wasn’t explicit about the specifics of his plan, he did say that he’s been consulting with the attorney general every step of the way, and “whatever we do will be in full compliance with the attorney general’s office.”

After the GOP took control of the state Senate earlier this month — in a dramatic turn of events that may have involved an illegal bribe to get a Democrat to step down — Virginia lawmakers rushed to pass a budget that explicitly bans the state from expanding Medicaid. Republicans say that the expansion is too expensive and that it’s irresponsible to pour more money into a broken government program.

But McAuliffe announced on Friday that he plans to veto that provision, along with several other line items in the budget that he doesn’t want to approve. The political fight over the state’s budget has been threatening a government shutdown, so McAuliffe opted for line vetoes rather than rejecting the entire proposal outright.

Across the country, GOP-led resistance to Medicaid expansion is leaving an estimated 5.8 million impoverished Americans without any access to affordable health care whatsoever. Meanwhile, the states that have agreed to expand the public program are seeing dramatic drops in their uninsurance rates and significant boosts to their budgets.

Update

McAuliffe’s office is disputing earlier reports that the governor will definitely expand Medicaid, saying he may use a different avenue to extend health coverage that doesn’t technically fall under Obamacare’s Medicaid policy. “There are a number of options, so we’re exploring all options within the governor’s executive power to get Virginians access to the health care they need,” spokesperson Rachel Thomas told the Huffington Post. “The governor wants to move forward in any way that he can. Whatever that looks like, whatever people call that, we’ll have more details on that in the coming months.”

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