Commentary: Expanding Medicaid

Commentary: Expanding Medicaid

The 2018 legislative session has just passed its halfway mark. Crossover: where bills that have passed the House of Delegates go to the Senate for consideration and those from the Senate go to the House of Delegates for consideration. There are many areas that are still under heavy debate — grid modernization, refunds to Dominion customers, and, of course, the perennial issue of Medicaid Expansion. I have been an advocate of expanding Medicaid in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act since the beginning. It brings much needed money back to the Commonwealth, spurs the growth of health sector jobs, and the most important component is of course providing nearly 400,000 Virginians with much needed health coverage.

The House of Delegates has been pushing back against enacting Medicaid expansion since McDonnell the administration. However, after much negotiation and compromise, House Republicans have agreed to include the language to expand Medicaid in the House version of the budget. This infusion frees significant money to be put into other areas such as education, targeted cyber-security initiatives, and our state’s rainy day cash reserve. It also means potential raises for teachers, law-enforcement officials, and state workers. This is in addition to the over 300,000 Virginians who would receive access to healthcare coverage. Medicaid expansion will also help stabilize at-risk hospitals and health centers in some vulnerable parts of the Commonwealth.

While I have long advocated for the expansion of Medicaid without reservation, this proposal is a compromise measure. In order for Republican members of the House of Delegates to support this version of Medicaid expansion, they required programs similar to Indiana and Kentucky, or, to be plain, work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Under the proposal passed by the House of Delegates, Medicaid recipients would be required to spend at least 20 hours per week working or seeking employment. Participation in job-training, education programs, or public service would also count. There are exceptions for the elderly, children, pregnant women and others who are not deemed able-bodied built into the legislation, to give vulnerable groups some protection.

I am concerned about imposing work requirements to access healthcare. I believe it goes against our moral imperative as a country. It also adds additional work and significant cost to our state government agencies. It is money that could be used for our roads, schools, and public health. Instead, the money will be used to track some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is my hope that even through this costly measure we can reach out to people to offer job training and other resources to help them make a better future for themselves and their families. Perhaps some good can come. The fact that more people will have health coverage coupled with the dollars that will come to our state, I plan to vote for even this version of Medicaid expansion with the hope that the exceptions to the work requirement are enough to protect our most vulnerable populations.

Charniele Herring represents Alexandria City’s 46th District in the Virginia General Assembly where she serves as House Minority Caucus Chair and on the Courts of Justice, Counties, Cities, & Towns, and Agriculture, Chesapeake & Natural Resources Committees. Visit