By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe threw a curveball Monday on the first day of the special session, essentially proposing a new budget that includes a two-year pilot for Medicaid expansion.
McAuliffe, waving a letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said the feds have authorized Virginia to try expand Medicaid for two years, then drop the plan if it doesn’t work out. McAuliffe’s press team did not immediately respond to a request to disclose the letter to the media and public.
“Let’s keep the politics out of it,” the governor said in support of the pilot program before a room full of media, lawmakers and staff Monday morning, the first day of what promises to be a long and drawn-out special budget session.
McAuliffe sidestepped the question of whether he would pass a budget without Medicaid expansion.
The House and Senate also have different budget versions: the Republican-led House with no room for Medicaid expansion; the Democratic-leaning Senate with an expansion option dubbed “Marketplace Virginia.”
McAuliffe faced some critical questions from the media regarding how much confidence he has that CMS will keep its promise and how the state would ramp up for just two years before potentially dropping the pilot program.
McAuliffe said he is confident President Obama won’t allow funding for his signature legislation to fail, but he didn’t have a direct answer as to how the state could increase staffing levels to handle the influx of applicants and participants. As Watchdog.org reported first, Virginia has a backlog of some 50,000 applications from Healthcare.gov.
McAuliffe says he has written proof about the two-year pilot program, but House Republicans, including Delegate Chris Jones, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, are skeptical.
“A letter from someone in Washington, they’re not here on the ground,” Jones told reporters, reiterating the House Republican mantra that more reforms are needed before expansion.
McAuliffe also failed to address the political and social difficulty of extending a benefit to people, then dropping them from the program.
Republican state Sen. Tommy Norment said if the state expands Medicaid a clear “disclaimer” would be needed, telling people they could someday lose their coverage.
The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee on Monday said it will get the governor’s budget but didn’t directly say whether the committee would seriously consider it.
House Republicans are urging the governor and Senate to separate Medicaid from the budget, deal with the budget now and handle Medicaid later.
“Last fall, Republicans in Washington wrongly sought to use the threat of a federal government shutdown as leverage in the debate over Obamacare,” House Speaker Bill Howell wrote in a recent op-ed in Fredericksburg’s Freelance Star. “Gov. McAuliffe wrote a letter to the congressional delegation, urging them to ‘stop using the threat of a government shutdown as a bargaining chip in other negotiations, including over the health care law.’ Now, the governor is doing the exact same thing. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.”
Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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