Virginia senator thinks GOP secretly wants governor to expand Medicaid



Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) says some Republicans secretly want Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to expand Medicaid through an executive order. 

He said Republicans in Virginia want it to happen, but don’t want to have to be responsible for the vote.


“I actually think there are some who would actually rather he do it in an executive way,” Kaine said. “They want it to happen but they don’t want to vote for it to happen and they’d rather he do it.”

McAuliffe promised as part of his 2013 campaign that he would expand Medicaid under ObamaCare, as 26 states and the District of Columbia have already done. He’s faced pushback to that promise from Republicans since taking office.

Asked if he’d support an executive order by McAuliffe, Kaine said he’d want to first see the executive order.

“I’d have to see how that might be justified,” said Kaine, a former governor.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who is up for reelection this year, didn't comment for this article. Warner was governor of Virginia from 2002 to 2006.

Republicans say McAuliffe doesn't have the administrative power to enlarge Medicaid. If McAuliffe issues an executive order, it would likely be legally challenged. Such a move would also sour the relationship between McAuliffe and state Republicans.

McAuliffe has tried to expand Medicaid through legislation, but he doesn't have the votes.

He has tied Medicaid expansion to the state’s budget, which the legislature must approve by June 30 or the state government will shut down.

But it’s not clear if that effort will work.

“Our firm belief is Medicaid and the budget should be considered separately,” said Matthew Moran, a spokesperson for William Howell, the GOP speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. “Proponents have taken the entire state budget hostage and are threatening a shutdown if they don’t get their way on ObamaCare.”

Opponents of Medicaid expansion are worried the federal government won’t be able to keep its promise to pay for most of the coverage.

Right now, the federal government pays for the entire expansion, but states will have to start picking up the tab in 2016. By 2020, states will have to pay 10 percent of the cost, but some think that will grow much higher.

“If you look at the federal government it is $17 trillion in debt,” said Moran. “If it goes from [paying] 90 percent to 50 percent that could cause Virginia a lot of money.”

Proponents of the expansion say it would give health insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians at little cost to the state.

McAuliffe is reportedly looking for ways to make the expansion through executive action if the legislation does not take action. He’s been in consultations on that issue with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, according to media reports.

Michael Kelly, a spokesperson for Herring, would not confirm whether the governor and attorney general have discussed executive powers to work around the legislator.

However, he says Herring like McAuliffe believes working with the legislator to pass Medicaid expansion is the best way to go.

Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) was able to sidestep his state’s legislature and expand Medicaid by accepting federal dollars for the program through the Ohio Controlling Board, which oversees funding and expenditure by state agencies.

Republicans and anti-abortion rights groups argued the measure was an overreach of the board’s authority but were overruled by the Ohio Supreme Court.

A similar battle played out in Kentucky where Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear sidestepped the legislature by using executive authority to expand Medicaid.

- This article was updated May 27 at 10:14am.