Medicaid debate heats up at Capitol Square

Posted at 1:30 PM, Feb 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-25 13:30:22-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -  The debate over whether Virginia should expand Medicaid to the poorest Virginians as a part of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, takes center stage on Capitol Square this week.

Obamacare states can choose to expand health coverage to people whose income places them near the federal poverty line by accepting funds from the federal government.

At a rally of faith leaders near the capitol bell tower  Tuesday, senior Democratic Party leadership voiced concerns that Virginia lawmakers would pass on Medicaid expansion.

Newly-elected Virginia Lt. Governor Ralph Northam addressed the crowd.

Supporters argue Virginia is losing out on $5 million per day by not expanding the program, which equates to approximately $1.7 billion this year.

"More than 25 states have already signed up because they realize they can't afford not to.  Virginia is in the same situation," State Senator Henry Marsh (D-Richmond) said.  "This is critical.  This is a moment in history where we can make a difference."

Opponents of expansion have said Virginia cannot trust the federal government as a reliable partner in the deal.

House GOP members said they are concerned that Democrats are using the issue to hold the state budget hostage.

As it stands currently, the Medicaid debate is directly tied to budget talks.

"I hope what they're not going to do is say, 'we're not going to do anything until we solve Medicaid expansion,'" House majority leader Kirk Cox (R-Henrico) said.  "We know that's nothing more than improper leverage."

Both the House of Delegates and the Senate will consider the other chamber's proposed budget amendments on Wednesday, and Medicaid expansion is expected to one of the key areas of debate.