400,000 ways for McAuliffe to win on Medicaid

April 9, 2014

Gov. Terry McAuliffe needs to ditch the talking points about hospitals, jobs and investments that he’s used to justify Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. They aren’t going to change any minds. At the same time, he needs to stop worrying about Obamacare, the federal deficit, broken Washington promises and all the other bullet points used to justify opposition to Medicaid expansion. They aren’t going to change any minds either.

If we didn’t have a pervasive pay-to-play culture in Virginia, our leaders would have long ago told the special interest groups, lobbyists and power-brokers haggling over the Medicaid debate to go home.

Why?

Because Medicaid expansion comes down to one point, or more precisely, 400,000 versions of the same point. This is the rough number of poor Virginians whom the Medicaid component of Obamacare was designed to help get health care they couldn’t otherwise afford.  Due to bad genes, bad luck or bad choices, many of them have pressing health issues but no way to get insurance.

These Virginians aren’t looking for a hand out. But there comes a time when even the toughest of us face a situation where we need a helping hand.

These Virginians can’t afford to attend legislative fund-raisers or pay $100,000 to have a cozy private dinner with their favorite pol. This is why the Medicaid debate taking place in Richmond is a posturing, pathetic one that only a lobbyist, influence peddler or professional budget bureaucrat could love.

Republicans and Democrats are mostly positioning themselves for the 2015 legislative elections. If one side could force a government shutdown while pinning the blame on the other, it would.

So far, McAuliffe has played the political game, siding with Democrats controlling the state Senate over the Republicans who dominant in the House. There is a far better strategy for him and for Virginia.

Forget the high and the mighty at the Capitol. They don’t need any gubernatorial help.

But these 400,000 Virginians do. And each one has a story that Virginians need to hear. Their plight is quite simple: They need health insurance. What’s more, their fellow Virginians are already paying for it though taxes and other money they have to pony up under Obamacare.

Despite the multiple attempts in the House of Representatives to repeal Obamacare and the possibility that the Senate will flip to Republican control this fall, it will be with us for at least another two years.  But for the Supreme Court ruling essentially making the Medicaid expansion optional, there would be no budget stalemate in Richmond and no threat of a state government shutdown.

It would have been a done deal, albeit one imposed by Washington. But the court sensibly rejected the fiscal blackmail Washington has often used to coerce the states into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t. That gave the General Assembly final say on Medicaid expansion.

We believe the House and Senate want to do the right thing. But they need help in putting a human face on their deliberations. McAuliffe needs to downsize the debate to individual stories and tell them 24/7 across the commonwealth. He could start by picking up where CBS’s “60 Minutes” left off. Its Sunday story featured emotionally gripping individual health stories from Virginia’s Wise County.  These are real people – our people – and their plight should move their governor to a new Medicaid mantra.

Health care is personal, not partisan.  And there are 400,000 reasons we need to get the Medicaid issue right.

Norman Leahy is an editor of the conservative Web site BearingDrift.com and producer of the political radio show “The Score.” Paul Goldman is a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. They are blogging together on All Opinions Are Local during Virginia’s 2014 General Assembly session.

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