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Virginia's McAuliffe Scales Back Medicaid Plans Ahead of Special Session

Mary K. Caffrey
After vowing earlier this year to find a way to expand Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe conceded yesterday he'd been cornered by Republicans in the Legislature determined to thwart his plans. McAuliffe yesterday unveiled a modest plan to extend Medicaid to 20,000 residents with severe mental illnesses and 5,000 children of state workers.
After vowing earlier this year to find a way to expand Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe conceded yesterday he’d been cornered by Republicans in the Legislature determined to thwart his plans.

McAuliffe yesterday unveiled a modest plan to extend Medicaid to 20,000 residents with severe mental illnesses and 5,000 children of state workers. That will be it, unless he can make progress in a special session on the topic set for Sept. 18. The governor, who had said while campaigning he would not sign a budget that did not expand Medicaid, was chastised by Republicans for failing to deliver what he promised, but McAuliffe fired back.

“I want to be crystal clear that while the plan that I am announcing today will do a lot of good for a lot of people, it does not solve the larger problem of providing health insurance coverage to uninsured Virginians,” McAuliffe said.

The fight over Medicaid has been a roller coaster in Virginia since June, with the governor bringing the commonwealth to the brink of a shutdown as he explored ways to enact by fiat what the Republican-controlled legislature would not give him funds to do. A conservative blogger stumbled upon budget language left over by McAuliffe’s predecessor, which lawmakers removed, that would have given the governor latitude to enact more sweeping changes.

McAuliffe’s changes will cost $160 million a year, with half being paid by the federal government, and must be renewed by the Legislature in 2015. Yesterday’s changes pave the way for dialogue on how to cover more Virginians going forward, but it remains to be seen whether the tenor of talks will improve.

Elsewhere, the Affordable Care Act is proving less of political millstone for Democratic candidates than it once was. While the term “Obamacare” remains unpopular in polling, 2015 premiums in Arkansas came in lower than the prior year, complicating a hotly contested U.S. Senate race.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released today found that 47 percent of voters viewed the law unfavorably, somewhat less than the peak of 53 percent this summer. Opinion divides sharply along partisan lines and by personal impact. However, the ACA is no longer the major issue driving voters to the polls, with the economy rating higher (21 percent) than healthcare (13 percent).

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