Virginia state capitol building in Richmond

The Virginia General Assembly meets in the state capitol building in Richmond.

After the vote, there were cheers, applause and  lots of hugs.

Members of the Virginia House of Delegates took a moment to celebrate their vote Wednesday night after passing a budget that includes a provision to expand Medicaid for the first time after nearly five years of debate.

The move is expected to bring $2 billion in additional federal money to the state’s coffers annually while providing health insurance to an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 residents making less than $16,643 a year.

The delegates took up the measure at about 8 p.m., after the state Senate spent about six hours debating two budget bills Wednesday afternoon and early evening. 

The vote in upper chamber – 23 to 17 -- was mostly along party lines except for four GOP senators who voted with the Senate’s 19 Democrats to expand Medicaid to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. 

Republican senators who voted to expand Medicaid included Sen. Jill Vogel, a Republican whose 27th District includes all of Fauquier County, as well as Sens. Frank Wagner, R-7th; Emmet Hanger, R-24th; and Ben Chafin, R-38th. Wagner is from Virginia Beach area, while Hanger’s district includes the Shenandoah Valley, and Chafin’s is in the southwest corner of the state.

Republicans who voted against the move talked about their fears  the federal government wouldn’t keep its promise to cover 90 percent of the costs of new enrollees, or that the state might have to rescind the program if it received less federal money than expected.

But supporters countered by noting that Virginia isn’t afraid to take federal money for other initiatives and reminding their fellow lawmakers that Medicaid has been existence for 50 years and has never reduced its payments to the state.

The vote was 67-to-31 in the House of Delegates. Nineteen GOP delegates joined 48 Democrats to vote in favor of a budget that included Medicaid expansion. Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd, was not there for the vote.

All three Republican state lawmakers whose districts include parts of Prince William County voted against the budget. They included Del. Tim Hugo, R-40th, and state Sens. Dick Black, R-13th; and Richard Stuart, R-28th.

'We got it done'

Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, is among five newly elected state delegates from Prince William County who campaigned on passing Medicaid expansion last year. She described the scene in the House chambers as celebratory and said delegates exchanged hugs after the meeting adjourned. 

The delegates and senators were called back to Richmond for a special session this week after failing to pass a budget in March.

Roem called the vote “historic” and said it is expected to impact an estimated 3,700 people in her district, including 1,300 residents of Manassas Park and 2,400 in Prince William County.

“Here we are. We got it done,” Roem said in an interview after the vote. “My job now is to make sure we enroll as many of our eligible constituents as possible.”

Medicaid is expected to be available to those meeting the new requirements by Jan. 1, 2019.

Virginia’s current Medicaid program is among the leanest in the nation. Income limits are now $9,000 a year for an individual, and no able-bodied, childless adults qualify, not matter how little they make.

Roem said she was  pleased with the other benefits of the budget bill as well.

Accepting federal Medicaid dollars will free up state money that had been subsidizing indigent health care, some of which will be redirected to schools, mental health services and Medicaid “waivers” for people with intellectual and developmental delays and pay increases for state workers.

Roem said she is especially pleased by a provision that mandates state employees’ health insurance cover treatments for autistic children up to age 18.

Roem said such a benefit should be required of all private insurers in Virginia but called the state employees’ provision “a start.”

“Is it ideal? Of course not,” Roem said. “We want to cover a lot more people than that.”

Roem said she hoped to return next year with a more comprehensive bill. Insurance companies in Virginia are now required to pay for treatments for autistic children only up to age 10, Roem said.

Budget boosts school funding, helps dredge Neabsco Creek

Other Prince William County delegates found more reasons to tout the vote. Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-2nd, issued a statement saying she is “ecstatic” the budget bill passed, noting it will benefit “women, veterans, the disabled and the elderly.”

“It will help us tackle the opioid crisis in Virginia where people are dying from overdoses at a rate higher than car accidents,” Foy added. “We will be able to afford to treat our mentally-ill citizens who are in desperate need for medications. And, of course, expansion will help underemployed adults the most - men and women working 40 and more hours a week who still can’t afford coverage.”

State Sens. Scott Surovell, D-36th, and Jeremy McPike, D-29th, noted several ways the state budget benefits Prince William County.

The budget includes a 3-percent raise for teachers and millions more in state funding for the county school division.

It also funds a vacant circuit court judgeship in Prince William County in July 1,  2019 and commits $1,300,000 toward dredging Neabsco Creek.

 “This is a good budget with real investment for Prince William and Stafford counties,” Surovell said in a statement. “Thousands of Prince William and Stafford residents will receive healthcare, Prince William County Public Schools will receive $1,057 per student over the next two years. Stafford County Public Schools will see $613 per student, and we will save four dozen marina and boat repair jobs, 1,000 boat slips, and keep Neabsco Creek open.”

The vote is a big win for Gov. Ralph Northam (D) who worked with former Gov. Terry McAuliff for five years to pass Medicaid expansion to no avail.  

“This budget is the culmination of five years of effort to bring our taxpayer dollars home from Washington and expand Medicaid,” Northam 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 care." 

Reach Jill Palermo at Fauquier.com

 

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