Republican state senator proposes expansion of health coverage in Virginia

While carefully avoiding the words “Medicaid expansion,” Virginia state Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan) laid out his plan Thursday to provide coverage to more of the state’s uninsured with federal funds.

“We’re not going to expand” Medicaid, Watkins told the Senate Finance Committee. “But we’re going to cover the population that it would be responsible for. . . . It’s a pro-business approach to covering the uninsured.”

Watkins’s “Marketplace Virginia” legislation would set up a state health-care exchange of private managed-care plans. A Virginia Taxpayer Recovery Fund would take in the federal funding given to states that expand their coverage. That money would be used to provide coverage for uninsured Virginians living at up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line and give subsidies and tax credits to buy insurance to those living at up to 400 percent of the poverty line.

Marketplace users would pay up to 5 percent of their household income into the system, which Watkins described as “skin in the game.”

The Affordable Care Act commits the federal government to paying 100 percent of state expansion costs for the first three years and at least 90 percent thereafter. Should those funds dry up, the program set up by Watkins’s bill would be terminated or cut.

House Republicans, who oppose any expansion during this session, were unmoved. “This proposal is simply Obama­Care’s Medi­caid expansion by a different name,” the House GOP leadership said in a statement.

The committee did not vote on the plan, which Watkins would prefer be incorporated into the Senate budget proposal. If it was a bill, he said, the House would “just kill it.”

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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