400,000 Virginia residents edge closer to Medicaid expansion after key Republican splits with party

Amanda Michelle Gomez

Amanda Michelle Gomez Health Reporter, Think Progress

Virginia is inching closer to providing health care to 400,000 low-income residents after a key state Republican signaled this week that he was willing to split with his party and support Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Virginia is among 18 states that has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leaving roughly 400,000 in a “coverage gap” — meaning, they’re uninsured because they make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little for subsidized private insurance. But this year, the state legislature could change that, thus fulfilling a goal Democrats have been trying to accomplish for years.

Democrats need two Republicans in the state Senate to pass Medicaid expansion as part of the main budget — Republicans control 21 seats and Democrats 19 — and on Friday, state Sen. Frank Wagner (R) joined state Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R) in saying that he was willing to support expansion on certain conditions.

Wagner wants, for example, to condition Medicaid eligibility on work and provide a more generous tax credit for those who buy insurance on Healthcare.gov. Hanger, on the other hand, wants to eliminate a hospital “bed tax,” which would be used to pay for the expansion.

Gov. Ralph Northam called for a special legislative session, which begins April 11, after the House and Senate couldn’t reconcile differences on a two-year spending bill, largely due to ongoing negotiations over Medicaid expansion. Both chambers need to agree on a budget by July 1 to avoid a shutdown.

There’s a sense of optimism now that the state Senate may join the House and add Medicaid expansion to the main budget — but nothing is certain. Senate Majority Whip William Stanley (R), an ardent opponent of Medicaid expansion, said in a conference call Thursday, organized by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, that his party was “21 strong” and that he did not believe Republicans would get their concessions. According to the Washington Post, other than Hanger, Stanley did not refer to any other potential Republican defectors by name. State Senate Republican leadership also rebuked Wagner’s concessions, saying they’re “as distant from the respective plans being advocated by the Governor and the House as the Senate’s budget plan.”

This is the closest Virginia has come to passing Medicaid expansion, largely due to the fact that Democrats made big gains in the House of Delegates last November. The Virginia’s gubernatorial race saw historic voter turnout, and many were driven to the polls because of health care. Going into the election, Republicans held a 66-34 majority, but now barely maintain control at 51-49. All 40 state Senate seats are up for election in 2019.

“I think the House heard that message, loud and clear. I think the Senate still needs to listen a little bit,” Gov. Northam told NPR.

There’s a catch-22 for progressives, as Virginia will likely expand Medicaid with work requirements. The Virginia House approved a budget with Medicaid expansion in February that included work requirements for some beneficiaries. Northam was noncommittal when asked by Vox whether he could support Medicaid expansion with work rules.

“It’s not a perfect plan,” a communications official for Planned Parenthood Virginia tweeted following the House vote. “We remain concerned about the proposed work requirements. Access to healthcare is a right and shouldn’t be restricted to those who are able to work.”

By rejecting Medicaid expansion, Virginia gives up $142 million of federal funding every month, according to one estimate.

This post has been updated to include statement from state Senate Republican leadership. 

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Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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