FOR THE past four years, Virginia has thumbed its nose at billions of dollars in federal funding while leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without health insurance, all in service to Republican lawmakers’ antipathy toward Obamacare. The irrationality of their stance, and the damage it has done to their constituents, has been manifest. Now GOP obstruction has begun to crack under the weight of its own illogic.
The point was driven home when, after years of lockstep opposition to expanding Medicaid — a step that would overwhelmingly be paid for by the federal government — 19 Republicans in the House of Delegates flipped their votes this year and joined Democrats in supporting the move. Despite efforts by other conservatives to rally a rank-and-file rebellion, when the GOP renegades got home, their constituents were fine with their stance, according to a revealing article by The Post’s Laura Vozzella.
However, the state Senate refused to follow suit during the General Assembly’s regular session, which ended a month ago. That left the state without an approved budget, threatening a government shutdown this summer and prompting Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to call a special session, starting Wednesday. Then, last week, a Republican senator broke ranks, saying he is prepared to vote for expansion.
The renegade is Sen. Frank W. Wagner of Virginia Beach, who has served a quarter-century in the legislature. He joined one other Republican, Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. of Augusta, who has long favored expanding Medicaid under certain conditions. Along with the 19 Democrats in the 40-member chamber, the two Republicans would be enough to swing the upper chamber in favor of expansion — if they can agree to terms between them, and with House conferees.
The deal is not done. There are competing views on work requirements for Medicaid recipients (though most already work), as well as the source of revenue that would cover the (relatively modest) cost of the state’s share of the expansion. Nonetheless, Mr. Wagner’s position is a breakthrough that holds the hope of better health care to an estimated 400,000 Virginians who would receive health insurance under Medicaid expansion.
Virginia is a relatively wealthy state, but its Medicaid program is one of the nation’s most meager. It doesn’t cover childless single adults unless they’re disabled, and even disabled individuals are deemed ineligible if they earn more than $9,700 annually. Expanding Medicaid would raise income eligibility ceilings for individuals as well as families, which would yield a healthier population, a better economy and, according to some estimates, thousands of new jobs.
The excuses cited for years by Republicans have crumbled as more than 30 states, including some with GOP governors and legislatures, have expanded their programs. Predictions that the federal government would renege on its commitment to pay at least 90 percent of the cost have proved unfounded, even with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress. Virginia, having stiffed its residents for too long, may finally be ready to give them a helping hand.