By Brad Swanson:
Almost 400,000 Virginians will gain medical care after the state legislature voted late Wednesday to expand the federal healthcare program Medicaid.
The federal government will pick up at least 90% of the cost, estimated at about $2 billion annually. The decision caps a five-year campaign by Democratic legislators, and marks a big win for Gov. Ralph Northam, a pediatrician, who has made expanded healthcare a top priority since his election last November.
Democrats are in the minority in both chambers of the General Assembly, but they persuaded 19 Republican House delegates and 4 Republican senators to break ranks and put the measure over the top.
The move was embedded in a two-year, $115 billion budget that begins July 1. The Medicaid expansion, however, takes effect on Jan1 of next year.
Republican legislators were bitterly divided over the measure. Republican senators even excluded the four GOP senators who supported the expansion from a party caucus before the pivotal Senate vote on Wednesday, leaving one of them, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier), in tears.
Republicans recognized, after Democrats flipped 15 seats in the House in elections last November, that the Virginia electorate is becoming more progressive.
Affordable healthcare “is the number one issue on our voters’ minds,” said Republican Sen. Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach). “By golly, it ought to be the number one issue on the General Assembly’s mind.”
Virginia joins 32 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid, under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
But the expansion in Virginia, representing an increase of 40% over the 1 million currently enrolled, is much larger than in most other states.
Democrats will attempt to ride the momentum of their win over healthcare into the general election in November, where three of Virginia’s 11 Congressional seats are held by Republicans viewed as vulnerable. For northern Virginians, the most important of these is District 10, centered in Loudon County, now held by Barbara Comstock. The other two battleground districts are 2, held by Scott Taylor, and 6, held by Bob Goodlatte.
Brad Swanson is the editor of The Blue View and a member of Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee. He is an international investment manager and previously worked as a diplomat and journalist.