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Virginia Senate Dems: Republicans Should Keep Their Promise on the Coverage Gap

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From the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus: 

Only House GOP can decide if session will be a productive breakthrough or a needless waste

RICHMOND — In advance of Thursday’s floor session, Senate Democrats urged Republicans to close the health insurance coverage gap — they have promised a plan to do so — and expressed disappointment at the prospect of continued Republican intransigence.

Said Caucus Chair Sen. Donald McEachin (D – Henrico), “In January, Republicans promised a plan to close the coverage gap. Eight months later, that plan is nowhere to be seen — yet taxpayers are spending tens of thousands of dollars so we can have a supposed ‘full and fair debate.’ Unless Republicans finally come to the table, that ‘debate’ will be a charade — a cruel and wasteful trick on families who need and deserve our help. I’m hopeful Republicans will not do that to the Virginians we all serve.”

Said Democratic Leader Sen. Dick Saslaw (D – Fairfax), “Virginians expect their representatives to do the right and sensible thing. Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wyoming have all recently moved to close their coverage gaps, and Virginia should do the same. It is unfortunate that the session tomorrow is likely to be nothing but show. The Virginians who elected us deserve better than this.”

TIMELINE: 
HOUSE REPUBLICANS’ BROKEN PROMISES

In January, Speaker Howell declared his support for closing the coverage gap. 

  • Speaker Howell: “Virginia must find an alternative to Medicaid expansion.” Op-Ed: Virginia must find an alternative to Medicaid Expansion […] Instead of expanding Medicaid, Virginia should explore an alternative approach to covering those in the Obamacare coverage gap. [Speaker Howell, Free Lance-Star, 1/5/14]

Later that month, Del. Landes promised that Republicans were hard at work on a solution.

  • Del. Landes: “Instead of just saying no, we are working on an alternative to Medicaid expansion that would address the coverage gap.” Instead of just saying no, we are working on an alternative to Medicaid expansion that would address the coverage gap created by ObamaCare with a conservative, market-based solution. […] We want to craft a conservative, market-based alternative to Medicaid expansion that addresses a targeted need in Virginia. [YouTube, 1/12/14]

The promised plan never materialized. 

Meanwhile, delegates on the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission ignored expert testimony that all prerequisites for closing the coverage gap had been met…

  • Sec. Hazel: DMAS “has hit all the reform goals set […] as preconditions to expand health insurance coverage.”The state's top health official says Virginia's Medicaid agency has hit all the reform goals set by the General Assembly as preconditions to expand health insurance coverage for low-income Virginians. […] “What you are asking us to do now is different from what you asked us to do in the budget,” Hazel told the panel. [Daily Press, 4/7/14]

…and House Republicans shot down compromise proposals from both the governor and the Senate.

  • At a meeting with the governor, House GOP leaders “rejected out of hand” compromises ranging from the governor’s no-risk pilot program to the Senate’s private-option alternative. At the meeting, the governor, according to an aide, offered several alternatives to traditional expansion, ranging from the private option Marketplace Virginia proposal […] to his offer of a two-year Medicaid expansion pilot program […] The McAuliffe aide said the proposals were “rejected out of hand” by House speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, and Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/29/14]

In July, Speaker Howell announced this week’s session, calling it “an opportunity to put forward ideas and proposals” to fix the coverage gap…

  • Speaker Howell: the special session is “an opportunity to put forward ideas and proposals.” This session will provide lawmakers on both sides of this debate with an opportunity to put forward ideas and proposals that can be considered on their merits. [Speaker Howell, press release, 7/9/14]

…but he recently said Republican leaders in the House oppose every solution now before the General Assembly. He mentioned no plans to put forward a more acceptable alternative.

  • Speaker Howell has declined to put forward or endorse any proposal to help Virginians in the coverage gap.REPORTER: “Are there any bills forthcoming that you or the members of your leadership team favor?” HOWELL: “I haven’t seen any.” [budgetary press conference, 9/15/14]


BACKGROUND: 
WHY THE COVERAGE GAP CANNOT BE IGNORED

Virginians are united in calling for lawmakers to close the coverage gap:

  • The business community wants lawmakers to act. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce has called for a “private option approach” to close the coverage gap — and business groups from across the Commonwealth agree.  Virginia could create more than 30,000 jobs and spark $3.9 billion in annual economic activity. We could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars and bring billions of our own federal tax dollars back to Virginia — all while holding down costs for businesses and families who already pay for insurance.
  • Hospitals are counting on lawmakers to act. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association calls closing the coverage gap “our number one priority,” and with good reason. Virginia’s failure to act is one of the reasons why Lee County no longer has a hospital, and it helps explains why hospitals and health systems across the state have been forced to lay off workers — including sixty-six at Mary Washington Healthcare earlier this month. If nothing is done, industry officials say we can continue to expect “layoffs and painful service cuts.”
  • Working families across Virginia desperately need lawmakers to act. Sad necessities like the Health Wagon andRAM Clinic show the human cost of inaction. Closing the coverage gap will save hundreds of lives in Virginia every year. Acting now will also provide up to 400,000 Virginians — most from working families — the kind of security and peace of mind that only quality, affordable health care can bring. These obvious benefits may explain why the latest poll shows an overwhelming majority of Virginians — 61% — wanting to close the coverage gap.