RICHMOND, Va. — Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe proposed Monday that lawmakers give him the ability to expand Medicaid eligibility on his own if a state commission doesn't act by the end of the 2014 legislative session.
McAuliffe said the state can't afford to wait much longer for the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission to decide whether the state should expand the publicly funded health insurance program for the poor and disabled to an additional 400,000 Virginians.
"Time is of the essence," McAuliffe said today at a news conference at the Capitol.
Medicaid expansion is a key component of President Barack Obama's new health care law, which calls for the federal government to cover the full cost of the expanded eligibility for the first three years. Virginia would then pay an increasing share of the costs in the following years. By not expanding, McAuliffe said the state is forgoing $5 million a day in federal funds and putting a strain on the state's economy.
But Republicans in the House are opposed to the expansion, saying the Medicaid program needs to be reformed before more people are added and the federal government's promises of future payment can't be trusted.
House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said shortly after McAuliffe's news conference that the governor's plan was a nonstarter and that MIRC panel was just beginning its work.
The commission, made up of lawmakers from both chambers, was established last year as a compromise that allows for Medicaid expansion only if high cost-saving thresholds are met.
"The governor, basically, is going to try different ways to get across his point on Medicaid expansion and of course my job today is to get across the point that we're not going to expand Medicaid," Cox said.
McAuliffe also announced other changes he wants lawmakers to enact to the budget proposed by outgoing former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Those changes include an additional $3 million for the state police to spend on police vehicles and aircraft and an additional $5.4 million for school districts in Northern Virginia to pay support staff.
McAuliffe said his extra spending would be offset by new savings or revenues, including the sale of $25 million of unclaimed property in the state's possession.