Virginia Conservatives Shoot Down Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion

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Coming into 2014, Virginia was one of the more promising states for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion to take hold. A newly elected Democratic governor had made it a central issue of his campaign. Some GOP lawmakers had shown a willingness to play ball. Public polls showed even Republicans supported expanding the program to cover more than 250,000 low-income residents.

The momentum seemed to build earlier this week when Senate Republicans released and approved a privatized form of Medicaid expansion, using Medicaid dollars to pay for private insurance, as Arkansas had done to make one of the key provisions in Obamacare more palatable to conservatives.

But all those developments seem to have been for naught: Hard-line conservatives in the House refused to budge. They made the extra effort Thursday to pull the Medicaid expansion out of their broader budget bill and voted it down, 67 to 32, almost entirely along party lines, according to the Washington Post.

It destroyed the progress made earlier in the week when the bipartisan alternative Medicaid plan passed the Senate. Senate Republicans were somewhat disingenuous in their portrayal of the plan, hailing it as a rejection of Obamacare, when in fact the end result would have been the same: thousands of low-income Virginians covered under the law.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has made Medicaid expansion one of his top legislative priorities, hailed the Senate proposal while chiding the House for not following suit.

“I commend the Senate of Virginia for including in their budget a market-based path toward accepting this funding,” he said. But to the House: “This is clearly a case of partisan ideology driving a bad business decision.”

That bad blood between the new Democratic executive and House GOPers seemed to spill over into Thursday’s vote by the lower chamber, which should stymie McAuliffe’s goals.

One House Republican, Del. Riley Ingram, told the Post that the governor had told him personally that McAuliffe would kill an economic development project in his district if the lawmaker didn’t support Medicaid expansion. But Ingram didn’t budge. (McAuliffe’s office denied the incident to the Post).

House Republicans touted their overwhelming defeat of the Medicaid expansion bill as definitive proof that the proposal was dead.

“We wanted them to have a clean vote because we wanted to be able to say, ‘This is where our caucus stands,’ ” House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, said. “And that 67 vote, I’m very confident.”

Senate leadership isn’t willing to give up on expansion yet, which leaves the legislature in a deadlock heading toward the end of the session. A government shutdown is possible. But for now, conservative intransigence appears to have shut the door for Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

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