Virginia is poised to join 32 other states in expanding the public health insurance program under the Affordable Care Act. The state’s Republican-controlled Senate voted on Wednesday to expand access to Medicaid to an additional 400,000 low-income adults next year.
Medicaid was blocked by GOP lawmakers for over four years, but when the party risked losing the House of Delegates in elections last fall, many of them changed their stance, giving healthcare priority.
The expansion represents a policy victory for Democrats whose party is gaining strength in elections.
“Today’s vote in Virginia is a smack in the face to the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress who keep pushing an out-of-touch, anti-health-care agenda. While they keep voting for health care repeal and sabotaging the system, Virginia voters demanded — and won — expanded coverage,” said Leslie Dach, chair of the advocacy group Protect Our Care, which supports the Affordable Care Act.
The vote on a budget bill including the Medicaid expansion came almost three months after the House approved a similar plan. The Senate bill was passed in the House in a matter of hours and will now go to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk.
Under the measure, adult recipients of Medicaid – provided they don’t have a disability – will have to work or volunteer in order to be eligible for it. This was a key provision for Republicans to vote on the bill.
“This budget is the culmination of five years of effort to bring our taxpayer dollars home from Washington and expand Medicaid,” Northam, a pediatrician, said in a statement. “As a doctor, I’m so proud of the significant step we’ve taken together to help Virginians get quality, affordable health care.”
However, the broadening of the program in Virginia comes with strings. The measure calls for the state to apply for a federal waiver to allow it to implement work requirements, co-payments and other measures and places new taxes on certain private hospitals to cover state costs.
Efforts to broaden the program in Idaho and Nebraska are also gaining momentum, even though their state legislatures have repeatedly refused to expand Medicaid.