Two GOP lawmakers agree to budget compromise that would expand Medicaid

Posted at 8:12 PM, May 21, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. -- Two key state budget negotiators have come to an agreement that could end a budget impasse over the expansion of Medicaid coverage for low-income Virginians.

Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) and Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) spent the past week working on amendments to the House budget plan that they believe will pass both chambers, according to a letter from Del. Jones obtained by CBS 6.

The amendments include a provider assessment fee on state hospitals that will generate revenue to pay for Virginia's share of the cost of expanding Medicaid.

"This document, and all that it does for Virginia, speaks for itself as a conservative, responsible blueprint that replenishes our cash reserves to protect our AAA bond rating, invests in teachers, state employees, sheriff’s deputies, expands healthcare access for low-income Virginians, expands on Early Childhood Education by increasing the Virginia Preschool Initiative’s per pupil funding and provides financial incentives for provisionally licensed teachers to become fully licensed, and builds on the General Assembly’s multi-year effort to encourage sustained economic growth," Jones wrote in a letter House members outlining the amendment package.

The Richmond-Times Dispatch first reported the agreement.

The House of Delegates has already passed a budget package that includes a plan to expand Virginia's Medicaid program to low-income Virginians who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level. The House plan includes a work/training requirement for able bodied adults 18-55 who receive Medicaid coverage in Virginia.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) has pushed for passage of a "clean budget" that does not include federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Republican leaders in the Senate have said the expanding Medicaid under the ACA is financially irresponsible since they say the Trump administration has targeted the program for elmination and worry Virginia would then be on the hook for the entire cost of expanding the program.

The Senate Finance Committee and full Senate are scheduled to meeting Tuesday to discuss their budget proposal.

It remains to be seen how Sen. Norment and other Senate Republicans will react to Sen. Hanger's budget amendments. Republicans hold a 21-19 edge in the Senate, meaning at least two Republicans would have join Senate Democrats and vote in favor of a budget the includes Medicaid expansion for it to pass.

In his letter to House members, Jones wrote the budget amendments "reflects the priorities of both chambers."

Jones highlighted other provisions in the amendment package:

  • Invests all of the FY18 revenue surplus in our reserve funds, bringing total reserve fund balances to approximately $975 million – more than five percent of general fund revenue – by the end of the biennium
  • Includes a two percent across-the-board state employee pay raise and a two percent merit-pay increase, raises the minimum salary for sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers
  • Fully funds K-12 re-benchmarking, provides a three percent pay raise for all funded SOQ positions, increases funding for early childhood education, and distributes 40 percent of lottery funds to local school districts

"As constructed, this is a fiscally-responsible plan that returns Virginia tax dollars to the Commonwealth, promotes personal responsibility among beneficiaries, and includes essential safeguards to ensure that Virginia hospitals’ contributions help fund increased coverage, improve access to care, protect the stability of providers and our health care system, and will be used appropriately and only for designated health care purposes," said Sean Connaughton, President and CEO of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

Governor Ralph Northam has said he supports expanding Virginia's Medicaid program and including a work requirement. CBS 6 has reached out to the Governor's Office for comment on the proposed budget deal but has not heard back.

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans has not yet responded to an email requesting comment, nor has Senator Norment's office.

A spokesperson for Speaker of the House Kirk Cox said they have no comment.