Governor renews calls for Medicaid expansion in Virginia
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam renewed his call for Medicaid expansion Wednesday as he unveiled the budget he will propose to lawmakers when they return for a special session next month.
But the spending plan was quickly dismissed by a top Republican, who said a fight over the budget likely won't be resolved soon.
The Democratic governor held a news conference to discuss his budget proposal, which is largely the same as the one former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe put forward in December, ahead of the start of the regular session.
"My goal has never changed," said Northam, who has made expansion one of his top priorities. "I want every Virginian to have access to good, affordable health care, and I want us to help those who need help the most. No family should be one illness or accident away from financial ruin."
Lawmakers adjourned the regular session earlier this month without passing a budget because, after years of near-uniform opposition, Republicans are now split on Medicaid expansion. The GOP-led House supports it while the GOP-led Senate opposes it.
Medicaid expansion was a key part of former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government picks up no less than 90 percent of the cost.
The governor said that his proposal will "guide the discussion" during the special session that begins April 11 but that he's open to working with both chambers.
Northam said the only difference between his proposal and McAuliffe's is that his includes a provision requiring any extra revenues to be put into a reserve fund.
He said the move was necessary to shore up the state's finances and protect Virginia against a downturn amid uncertainty in Washington.
A joint statement from Republican leaders in the House called the reserve fund "critical to protecting our Triple-A bond rating."
"We look forward to continuing our conversations with the Governor and the Senate as we return to the Capitol," the statement said.
But a statement from Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, the co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who has called for a full revenue re-forecast in light of federal tax changes, took a sharper tone.
"That he continues to make Obamacare's Medicaid expansion integral to that budget, and his refusal to base his plan on a more current revenue forecast, means the current standoff cannot be resolved quickly," he said.
The state government will shut down July 1 if no budget is passed, and Northam warned that even a lengthy stalemate could have ill effects.
"Just last week, S&P assured us that their credit rating and outlook is unchanged by our current budget situation. But a protracted budget impasse might change their minds," he said. "It's imperative that we all get to work and reach an agreement on a budget that expands coverage soon."
Associated Press writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.