RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Advocates and opponents of expanding Medicaid in Virginia revisited familiar arguments Tuesday at a lengthy public hearing over Gov. Terry McAuliffe's proposed budget.
The governor wants a roughly $96 billion, two-year budget that includes expanding Medicaid eligibility, which most Republican lawmakers oppose. The impasse could lead to a state government shutdown if the budget is not passed by July 1.
More than 100 people signed up to speak at Tuesday's Virginia Senate Finance Committee hearing on the governor's proposed budget. Politically active nonprofits, including the liberal Moveon.org and the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, had urged their supporters to attend.
Business owners, health officials and other advocates of expanding Medicaid told the finance committee of the Democratic controlled Virginia Senate that expansion would help the commonwealth's poor, its hospitals, and its overall economy.
Expanding Medicaid is a key part of the Affordable Care Act, and the federal government has promised to cover most of the costs for state's that agree to expansion. Advocates for Medicaid expansion say Virginia can't afford to pass up what amounts to roughly $5 million a day in federal funds.
"We're leaving a lot of money on the table folks," said W. Sheppard Miller III, a Hampton Roads businessman.
Other advocates pointed out that many low-income adults who would be covered by Medicaid expansion either have jobs or want to work.
Lori Piper of Arlington told the committee that an auto-immune disease caused her to lose a high paying job and health insurance and become homeless. She said she needed Medicaid coverage to help get back on her feet.
"It could happen to anyone," Piper said. "Illness does not discriminate."
Most of the speakers invited by the Senate panel expressed support for Medicaid expansion, while a handful did not. Opponents argued that the current Medicaid system need is already too costly and a large scale expansion will be too costly. They also argued that the federal government's promises of future payment can't be counted on.
Sean Lansing, head of the Virginia chapter of the Americans for Prosperity, said the state's current Medicaid system isn't providing quality care for its enrollees.
"Our most needy citizens deserve better," Lansing said.
McAuliffe proposed a budget last month after the General Assembly adjourned from its regular session without passing a roughly $96 billion, two-year, spending plan. The Democratic controlled Senate favors expanded Medicaid while the GOP-controlled House of Delegates opposes it.
Medicaid expansion was the central debate of this year's legislative session, and there were few fresh arguments heard Tuesday.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, House Speaker William J. Howell called the Senate's hearing a "dog and pony show" and urged Democrats to allow a state budget without Medicaid expansion to pass. Other Republicans riffed on the timing of the Senate's hearing occurring on April Fools' Day.