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

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work