Virginia Legislature sends Medicaid expansion to governor, who’s expected to sign

Amanda Michelle Gomez

Amanda Michelle Gomez Health Reporter, Think Progress

Advocates have been trying to get the Virginia Legislature to expand Medicaid for at least five years, and on Wednesday, lawmakers handed them a big win.

Four Senate Republicans joined all 19 Democrats, by a vote of 23-17, to pass a two-year $115 billion budget that includes Medicaid expansion. When state senators initially voted to add Medicaid expansion, only three Republicans joined. The Senate passed its $115 billion two-year budget on Wednesday, and later in the evening the House followed suit, by a vote of 67-31.

The bill now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) desk, and he is expected to sign it into law.

Virginia will likely join 32 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), providing health coverage to about 300,000 to 400,000 low-income residents.

The House passed a budget with Medicaid expansion in April — a reality many advocates likely couldn’t have predicted years ago. Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly have resisted Medicaid expansion for years, despite the fact that 61 percent of residents supported it as early as September 2014.

Medicaid expansion was only possible after a record number of voters, largely mobilized by heath care, elected more Democrats to the House last November. Going into the election, Republicans held a 66-34 majority, but now barely maintain control at 51-49. The turn of events was notable as poor heath is associated with lower levels of voter turnout — but Medicaid has proven to be a galvanizing political force. (States that expanded Medicaid see higher voter turnout.)

While the budget bill is a big deal for progressive advocates, there’s a catch. In addition to providing health care to thousands of low-income residents, some beneficiaries will likely have to jump through extra hoops to stay covered. The budget includes a provision which asks the federal government to approve work requirements for newly covered starting in January 2019. It would condition eligibility on 80 hours of reported work a month after 12 months of enrollment. If beneficiaries fail to meet the requirement, they’ll be locked out of coverage until the end of such 12-month period. Many newly covered beneficiaries will also have to pay premiums and copays.

In an interview with WTOP on Wednesday, Northam said work requirements were part of the “give and take on both sides,” adding that Virginia will “try to approach it with a carrot rather than a stick.” But it’s unclear how the state will do that.

Wednesday’s Medicaid expansion vote means many could be insured for the first time. Some 138,000 residents fell in the coverage gap, as they earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for subsidized private insurance available on the Obamacare marketplace.

The Senate GOP leadership has been resistant, citing potential costs. The federal government pays for the bulk of costs associated with Medicaid expansion. By resisting Medicaid expansion, Virginia has given up approximately $142 million in federal funding every month.

In a strange turn of events, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), who has a home in Virginia, paid a visit to the Virginia Legislature Wednesday, according to Daily Press reporter Dave Ress. He reportedly tried to dissuade Senate Republicans from voting for Medicaid expansion, claiming federal lawmakers are trying to repeal Obamacare. (Congress still doesn’t have the votes needed to pass Trumpcare.) But his efforts were apparently unsuccessful. And should Republicans successfully repeal the ACA, Virginia’s Medicaid expansion will end, under the bill’s language.

Virginia’s landmark vote comes on the heels of other recent Medicaid wins. On Tuesday, the Utah ballot measure aiming to expand insurance to 150,000 people officially earned enough signatures to be included on the November ballot, according to POLITICO reporter Rachana Pradhan.

This story has been updated to include news that the House passed the Senate’s budget later Wednesday evening, sending Medicaid expansion to the governor’s desk. 

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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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