Virginia Governor Expands Health Care To 25,000 People In The Medicaid Coverage Gap

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gestures during a press conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gestures during a press conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, March 6, 2014.

Months after losing the fight against Virginia Senate Republicans to expand Medicaid, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has unveiled a plan to insure 25,000 Virginians.

The plan uses $40 million in leftover state funds to expand coverage to those without insurance — particularly children of state employees and those struggling with mental health issues. A report detailing McAuliffe’s plan also highlights an increase in educational outreach and assistance to residents during the fall open enrollment period for the federal insurance marketplace.

Even though the plan takes steps to protect thousands of people without health insurance, many public officials, including Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources William A. Hazel, Jr., acknowledge that it doesn’t go far enough in fulfilling Gov. McAuliffe’s pledge to expand coverage to the nearly 400,000 Virginians who would be eligible for the Medicaid expansion.

“These initiatives are no substitute for Medicaid expansion,” said Hazel in a letter that appears in the report touted as A Healthy Virginia. “The need in our Commonwealth is great. Hundreds of thousands of our own citizens will continue to go without access to affordable health care until we close the coverage gap. This report introduces the initial critical steps that we can take to increase coverage, but it is only the beginning.”

Virginia counts among 20 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, despite promises from the federal government to cover $2 billion in annual costs. Those affected by the coverage gap include low-income adults who fall between the current Medicaid eligibility level and the state poverty line. Experts say this demographic includes members that will avoid taking preventative health care measures to avoid medical expenses.

But they aren’t the only ones who feel the financial burden. As of August, the Commonwealth has lost more than $693 million in federal funding since deciding not to opt into expanded Medicaid on January 1.

Some say that McAuliffe’s recent move speaks to the gridlock in the General Assembly that has halted Medicaid expansion negotiations in recent months. In June, the Senate passed a budget without Medicaid expansion and removed language that members of the GOP thought would allow McAuliffe to expand Medicaid on his own. During a press conference on Monday, McAuliffe said that his plan developed during a review that Hazel conducted to determine what steps the governor could take to broaden Medicaid coverage without the General Assembly’s approval.

Brian Devine, director of online programs at local grassroots organization Progress VA, said that McAuliffe’s most recent course of action has breathed life into the fight for total Medicaid expansion.

“Gov. McAuliffe’s action is a big step in the right direction,” Devine told ThinkProgress in an email. “The main problem, in getting coverage to the uninsured Virginians who badly need it, is still the Republican legislators in the General Assembly, who will undoubtedly try to impede this as well, but given this political reality the Governor needs to and is doing everything he can on his own. It is also an opportunity to remind people that Speaker Howell and his fellow conservative lawmakers still have yet to offer an alternative Republican plan despite the looming special session that will begin on September 18th.”

“This shouldn’t be seen as something that can take the pressure off of the General Assembly,” Devine added. “We want more and will continue to push for more, but I’m extremely happy the Governor is being active despite the continued efforts of conservative legislators not to let anything get done whatsoever.”