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Policy: Entitlements

Arkansas lawmakers pans Va. Medicaid plan

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Local,Virginia,Arkansas,Medicare and Medicaid,Entitlements

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The war of words between Democratic and Republican lawmakers over whether to accept federal Medicaid funds to provide health insurance to low-income residents continued at the Capitol Tuesday, with members from both parties accusing the other of being out-of-touch obstructionists.

Leaders in the GOP-controlled Virginia House organized a news conference call with a top state lawmaker from Arkansas, who saying his state has buyer's remorse after approving a Medicaid compromise plan last year.

"It's going to be sold to you as it's free money from Washington, D.C." said Arkansas House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman. "It is money from Washington, D.C., but you know as well as I do it's not free."

Last year, Arkansas approved a so-called "private option" plan, making it the first state given federal approval to use funds designated under the new federal health law for Medicaid expansion to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. But the plan's future is in doubt as lawmakers there are currently debating whether to reauthorize it for another year.

In Virginia, the Democratically controlled Senate has proposed a similar plan to Arkansas'. The measure has the backing of a handful of Republican senators.

But Republicans in the House have stridently opposed the Senate's plan, saying it would jeopardize Virginia's long-term economic health.

Most of the more than 1 million Medicaid enrollees in Virginia already choose between private insurance carriers, known as a Managed Care Organizations, according to state figures.

Virginia House Majority Leader Kirk Cox said the Democrats are playing a "game of chicken" with the budget that could imperil passage of the state's biennial budget. Cox said the General Assembly's decision last year to create a taskforce to study expanded Medicaid reform and eligibility expansion was designed to avoid the kind of budget impasse toward which the two chambers are currently headed. He said Democrats are trying to short circuit the taskforce's work.

"The Virginia Senate has decided to inject Washington-style politics into Virginia's budget process, potentially threatening to hold up millions of dollars in funding for schools, teachers, police officers and health care in exchange for Obamacare's Medicaid expansion," Cox said.

But Democrats said Republicans are letting their dislike for the federal health care law outweigh the benefits associated with receiving about $2 billion a year in federal Medicaid funds. Democrats said the influx of federal money would improve the conditions of the working poor as well as lower health care premiums for everyone else.

"Instead of focusing on partisan battles in other states, House Republicans should focus on Virginia and join the bipartisan coalition of leaders who recognize the benefit that this deal will bring to our families, our budget and our economy," said Brian Coy, spokesman for Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The new governor has made expanding Medicaid eligibility a top priority of his new administration, a priority that enjoys the backing of a broad coalition of supporters including the state's hospitals, the state chamber of commerce, and progressive advocacy groups.

At a news conference Tuesday held to denounce Republican efforts at limiting abortion rights in Virginia, Democratic lawmakers sought to tie Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion to what Democrats describe as a broader "war on women." Democrats noted that 100,000 women in Virginia would have better health care options if Medicaid eligibility was expanded.

"I have a problem with people who profess the right to life but would deny a baby a crumb of bread to survive once they are alive," said Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.

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