Virginia Legislature Votes To Expand Medicaid To 400,000 Low-Income Residents.

In the state of Virginia, members from both parties are celebrating the passage of legislation that has expanded Medicaid coverage to 400,000 economically disadvantaged residents, increasing coverage by 40 percent. Virginia has joined 32 other states in the U.S. and our nation’s Capitol in expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, with the legislation expected to come into effect on January 1, 2019.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Washington allowed states to expand coverage to people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline, with the federal government covering 90 percent of the costs of expansion. This translates to annual earnings of up to $16,643 for an individual and up to $28,700 for a three-person family. Comparatively, prior to expansion, disabled individuals could only earn up to $9,700 a year, a three-person family would only qualify for Medicaid if they earned less than $6,900 each year, and no able-bodied adults qualified for Medicaid regardless of how poor they might be.

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Even while the federal government agreed to foot the majority of the bill to expand Medicaid since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Virginian Republicans opposed the passage of legislation that would expand coverage. Many opposed the expansion on the notion that the federal government could withdrawal funding at any time and leave Virginia to cover the bill or end the expansion. Indeed, for four straight years, Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature voted against any bill that would expand coverage to low-income residents.

However, Republicans changed their tune after a blue wave in November that nearly won Democrats control of the House. Constituents were clear in what they wanted: affordable health care in the state of Virginia. The House Speaker, M. Kirkland Cox (R), began to voice favor for the expansion of Medicaid so long as conservative requirements (e.g., work requirements and co-pays) were included in the legislation.

Finally, on May 30, legislation expanding Medicaid coverage was passed by the Senate 23-17, with four Republicans splitting from their party line in order to pass the bill. Soon thereafter, the Virginian House of Delegates also passed the legislation in a vote of 67 to 31. The House erupted in cheers as the final bill was passed.

For Gov. Ralph Northam (D) who is also a pediatrician, this is an especially important victory for all Virginians. “As a doctor, I’m so proud of the significant step we’ve taken together to help Virginians get quality, affordable health care,” said Gov. Northam in a public statement.

However, the bill did not pass without significant opposition. Former Pennsylvanian U.S. Senator and current Virginia resident Rick Santorum delivered a speech that warned legislators that the Affordable Care Act may soon be undone by Congress. In his speech, he stated that the efforts of the legislators to expand Medicaid coverage “will be for naught.” Thomas Norment, the Senate Majority Leader in Virginia, also tried numerous times to block the bill throughout the process but was unsuccessful in his attempts.

Despite this opposition, many legislators and Virginian residents alike celebrated the passage of the bill. Only time will tell if the effort is for naught, but until then the 400,000 economically disadvantaged residents who have now become eligible for Medicaid coverage will finally have access to affordable health care in the state of Virginia.

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