The General Assembly’s 60-day legislative session adjourned on Saturday without a completed budget for the new fiscal year starting July 1. The Governor is expected to call for a special session beginning March 24 to work towards a new two-year budget. It is not unusual for a special session to be called to complete work on the state’s budget; there have been five instances since 1998 where the General Assembly was at least a month late in finalizing a budget. That being said, we want to complete this work as soon as possible.
The ongoing dispute centers around Marketplace Virginia, the Senate’s bipartisan plan to accept federal health expansion funds to provide care for up to 400,000 low-income Virginians. Republicans in the House of Delegates will not budge, despite the Senate’s repeated efforts to compromise. Democrats strongly preferred traditional Medicaid expansion but compromised with Senate Republicans to support Marketplace Virginia, which will cover the same population as traditional expansion but through private health insurance plans. We have made changes to address opponents’ concerns, including cost sharing, work search and audit requirements. We have even included a provision to automatically terminate Marketplace Virginia if the federal government pays anything less than what it has promised, which is 100 percent for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter.
Senate Democrats are not alone — the Governor, House Democrats (and at least one House Republican), the state Chamber of Commerce, hospitals, and clinics have all signaled their strong support to provide health coverage to these hardworking Virginians. The House of Delegates has provided no alternative plan. Expansion will create an estimated 30,000 healthcare jobs for the state, averaging 389 new jobs and $23.6 million in new Medicaid spending in each of the top 20 House Republican districts. If we don’t pass Marketplace Virginia, those jobs will not be created and that money will be sent to other states. From both a moral and fiscal perspective, this is too important an opportunity for us to pass up.
Republican Sen. Dick Black of Loudoun went so far as to claim the 400,000 Virginians eligible for coverage would be “added to the welfare rolls” and suggested that the uninsured could simply visit emergency rooms for care. To dismiss Marketplace Virginia as welfare is not only untrue but does a great disservice to the hardworking Virginians who finally find themselves on the cusp of being eligible for health insurance coverage. These uninsured individuals are not just an abstract number — these are real people, a majority of them living in working families, and they include more than 25,000 veterans and their spouses. Marketplace Virginia, using the private healthcare system, would primarily benefit the working poor. A family of four with a total income up to $32,913 would qualify.
The regular session may have adjourned but our work is not done until we have a budget that accepts federal funding to help our fellow Virginians access quality, affordable health care.
I will be giving several post-session legislative reports over the coming weeks. Please mark your calendars for:
Saturday, March 22 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Arlington Career Center (816 South Walter Reed Drive). Sponsored by the Arlington branches of the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.
Monday, April 7 from 8-9 p.m. at Minnie Howard School (3801 West Braddock Road, Alexandria.) Legislative update will follow an abbreviated Alexandria Democratic Committee meeting starting at 7:30.
Wednesday, April 9 from 7-9 p.m. at the Lyceum (201 South Washington Street, Alexandria.) Sponsored by the Old Town Civic Association.
It is my continued honor to represent the citizens of the 30th Senate District.