RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia House and Senate cast opposing votes Thursday on whether to accept federal Medicaid funds in order to provide health insurance to as much as 400,000 low-income residents.
The GOP-controlled House voted 67-32 against expanding Medicaid eligibility. The Democratically controlled Senate, with the support of a few Republicans, voted 23-17 for the expanded coverage.
Under the new federal health care law, the federal government reimburses states that expand Medicaid eligibility for lower-income residents. Whether Virginia should take the money has been the focal point of the 2014 legislative session.
House Republicans say the current program must be reformed before any large-scale expansion, and suggest that the government' promises to cover the bulk of the expansion can't be trusted.
House leaders added an amendment to their proposed biennial budget proposal that mirrors the Senate's plan to accept federal Medicaid money. The purpose was to highlight the House's widespread opposition to the plan before budget negotiations with the Senate begin in coming days.
Top Republicans said they did not lobby their caucus on how to vote. All but one Republican House member voted against the Senate's plan.
"That's as resounding as you get," said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox.
Democrats say an expanded Medicaid program that emphasizes private insurers as envisioned in the Senate's plan would help Virginia's working poor, hospitals, and overall economy.
Advocates for Medicaid expansion have said the state is currently forgoing $5 million a day.
"For us to turn this money down would be an absolute act of lunacy," said Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has made expanding Medicaid eligibility a top priority of his new administration, met with several lawmakers Thursday to urge them to vote for the Senate's plan, according to his spokesman. After the vote, McAuliffe's office issued a statement saying he was "disappointed that House Republicans chose ideology ahead of what's best for the commonwealth."
But he added:
"I remain optimistic that members of both parties can find common ground to accept this good deal for Virginia."