Fight over Medicaid could lead to government shutdown in VA

Posted at 1:11 PM, Mar 05, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-05 13:28:41-05

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) -- There are only a few days left in this years General Assembly session and the fight over Medicaid could derail budget talks among Democrats and Republicans, as both parties are standing their ground. Time is of the essence as Virginia is facing a government shutdown if lawmakers can't agree on a budget by Saturday.

"It is wrong to hold up the entire budget over one item," Republican Delegate Tom Rust said.

And the one item at the center of the budget battle is whether or not to expand Medicaid to nearly 400,000 Virginians. Democrats argue expanding the program could fill the coverage gap.

"We are paying for it with increased insurance premiums in the private sector," Democratic Senator Adam Ebbin said.

The issue to expand the program has not made it out of the House of Delegates. Democrats are calling for House Republicans to agree to a deal already passed by the full Senate.

"It's time for the House Republicans to step up," Democratic Delegate Charniele Herring said. "It's time for them to put partisanship aside. The Republicans have done it in the Senate, it's time for them to grow up."

However, on the other side of the political aisle Republicans have argued against including Medicaid in the state budget. Instead they want the healthcare program to be a separate issue to take up during a special session.

"We are ready to continue that debate, but not at the expense of a delayed budget," Republican House Speaker Bill Howell said. "The state budget is just too important, for too many Virginians to be used as a bargaining chip."

Meanwhile, Democrats argue without expanding Medicaid the state is missing out on federal aid.

"This is Virginia money; it's our taxpayer money," Herring said. "And it is immoral of us to let it go outside of the state."

Both sides have until July 1 to reach an agreement in order to avoid a government shutdown.