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Playing Hardball

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Virginia Governor Defies GOP, Pledges To Expand Health Coverage To Low-Income Virginians

Virginia has been embroiled in a political drama for some time now, but with real stakes for hundreds of thousands of the state’s residents. On one side is Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has consistently pushed to close the health coverage gap for low-income working Virginians by including a Medicaid expansion provision in the Virginia state budget. On the other is the GOP legislature, intent on putting politics over people by denying health coverage to working Virginians by preventing Medicaid expansion.

The stalemate appeared to break earlier this month, when the GOP took control of the state Senate in a dramatic turn of events that may have involved an illegal bribe to get a Democrat to step down. State Republicans then rushed to pass a budget that explicitly bans the state from expanding Medicaid.

Things didn’t look good for the roughly 400,000 residents of Virginia who would benefit if the state accepted the federal funding to expand health care under the Affordable Care Act. But today, Gov. Terry McAuliffe made a bold and surprising announcement that he would act unilaterally to close the coverage gap, whether by expanding Medicaid or through another avenue.

The Huffington Post reports:

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) used his line-item veto power Friday to nix portions of the state budget, extending his battle with legislative Republicans who oppose his attempt to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

McAuliffe struck language from the state legislature’s budget that Republicans had inserted in the hopes of blocking a Medicaid expansion, which could provide health care to 400,000 uninsured Virginians.

“By refusing any and all compromise, the House leadership has turned its back on people all over Virginia who were looking to us to help them and their families gain access to lifesaving treatments and medicine,” McAuliffe said at a Friday press conference. “With respect to health care, I am moving forward. There are several options available to me.”

The governor’s office made clear that he doesn’t necessarily intend to extend health coverage by unilaterally expanding Medicaid, a decision that has been considered a possibility before.

“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,” said a spokesman for McAuliffe.

Either way, this is great news for hardworking Virginia families. The fight will continue on Monday evening when the Virginia General Assembly returns to Richmond to consider action on upholding or overriding his vetoes.

BOTTOM LINE: In too many states, Republican lawmakers are refusing to provide health coverage to millions of Americans simply because of politics. These political games have real consequences. In the face of a Republican legislature refusing to compromise on Medicaid expansion, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vowed to take matters into his own hands in order to make sure working Virginia families get the care they deserve.

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