Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Virginia State News

February 16, 2014

Va. House, Senate unveil competing budgets

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia House and Senate unveiled budget proposals Sunday with competing views on whether to accept federal funds to provide health insurance to low-income Virginians.

The House’s version rejected calls from Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to expand Medicaid eligibility to about 400,000 residents. The Senate’s budget would have the same basic outcome of expanding Medicaid eligibility — more lower-income residents would receive publicly funded health insurance, but proponents of the chamber’s plan say its emphasis on creating a marketplace for private insurance is a key difference.

“We reject Medicaid expansion in favor a Virginia solution — private insurance that we refer to as ‘Marketplace Virginia,” said Sen. Walter Stosch, a Republican from Henrico and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Virginia’s current Medicaid program already has a significant private component — many people can choose between publicly funded private insurers known as Managed Care Organizations. Republicans in the House have scoffed at the Senate’s plan as Medicaid expansion by another name.

House Republicans have argued that the Medicaid program is already too costly and wasteful and needs to be changed before the state considers adding hundreds of thousands more to the program. They said they do not envision the General Assembly approving Medicaid expansion this year.

Proponents of increasing publicly funded health insurance coverage — including McAuliffe, most Democratic lawmakers and a few Republican senators — argue that the state’s economy can ill afford to pass up an estimated $5 million a day in funding from the federal government. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has pledged to cover the bulk Medicaid expansion during the next decade.

Without expanded coverage, proponents have argued that too many uninsured eschew primary care and wind up in emergency rooms as a last resort, a cycle that strains hospitals and increases everyone’s health insurance premiums.

The House’s proposed budget includes $118 million more for the state’s hospitals than originally proposed in former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s biennium budget. Hospitals have been some of the biggest proponents of expanding Medicaid eligibility, saying they will face significant financial burdens without it.

The competing budgets are likely to pass their respective chambers before a committee made up of representatives from both chambers attempts to negotiate a compromise solution that both the House and Senate will approve.

Other notable budget proposals include:

—$500,000 in the House budget to compensate those forcibly sterilized by the state last century, with a $25,000 cap per individual. A University of Vermont research project estimated 7,325 were sterilized in Virginia from 1924 to 1979, when Virginia repealed its sterilization law.

—$300 million in both budget proposals for new building projects at the state Capitol, which include a new office building and parking deck for state lawmakers.

—$4 million in the Senate’s budget for a new runway for the Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore dedicated for drone aircraft testing.

—Language in the House’s budget that would prohibit the state from funding Planned Parenthood, an abortion-rights group.


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