GOP state Senator says he will support Va. Medicaid expansion

GOP state Senator says he will support Va. Medicaid expansion
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Virginia may be one step closer to expanding Medicaid, after a Republican state senator on Friday said he would be willing to buck his party and vote with Democrats.

In an interview with The Washington Post, state Sen. Frank Wagner said he would support expansion, but only with certain conditions. He said he wants to ensure Medicaid recipients do not suddenly lose coverage if they earn too much money to qualify.

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Wagner also said he wants a tax break for middle-income people with insurance who are struggling with rising co-pays and deductibles.

Medicaid expansion has put Virginia’s legislature in a stalemate. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has made expansion a priority during his tenure and wants to include it as part of the state’s budget.

But, while the state House passed a budget earlier this year that included Medicaid expansion, the Senate did not. The legislature will meet for a special session Wednesday to try to pass a budget.

Democrats picked up 15 House seats in the November elections and nearly gained control of the chamber. They need two Republicans in the Senate in order to pass the budget, with expansion attached.

Even if Wagner votes with the Democrats, there are still notable barriers to Medicaid expansion being passed.

Another Republican senator, Emmett W. Hanger Jr., has supported some forms of Medicaid expansion in the past, but objected to provisions in the House bill, the Post reported.

Hanger wants to eliminate a hospital “bed tax” that would be used to pay for the state’s share of the expansion. Wagner supports the tax but wants the money used to cover the cost of the middle-income tax break.

The Virginia House legislation would also make coverage under the expansion contingent on a work requirement for beneficiaries. Northam has not said if he would support a work requirement. If he does, he would be the only Democratic governor to do so.

Indiana and Kentucky have so far been the only states to get federal approval for work requirements, but at least eight other states have applied.

ObamaCare gave states the option to expand Medicaid coverage, with the federal government picking up almost all of the cost of covering the expanded population.

The federal government covered 100 percent of the costs if a state expanded between 2014 and 2016. By 2020, states will pay 10 percent of the costs.

To date, 32 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded the program.