House, Senate Still at Odds on Medicaid Expansion

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RICHMOND, Va. — The chairman of a joint legislative commission looking at possible Medicaid expansion in Virginia indicated Wednesday that members remain “at a bit of an impasse” over the issue.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta and chairman of the state’s Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, said that House and Senate contingents on the commission are still looking for “a grand bargain that will allow us politically to go forward.”

The commission was formed as a compromise in the last legislative session, when the Republican House expressed strong reservations about expansion, while the Senate, split between Democrats and Republicans, was more supportive. Hanger indicated Wednesday that those divisions still remain. The commission holds another meeting later this month ahead of the 2014 legislative session.

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe is a supporter of expansion, saying it will allow Virginia to tap into $21 billion in federal money over a seven-year period to provide health care for 400,000 Virginians.

Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, said he and other House members want to see the system reformed before expanding it.

Hanger and O’Bannon spoke Wednesday on a health care panel at the annual AP Day at the Capital event at the offices of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

O’Bannon said a major problem is that the new federal health care law “is not true health care reform. It’s not even insurance reform.” What the federal law does, O’Bannon said, is simply reconfigure costs so that some people receive subsidized care at the expense of others. He wants Virginia to implement reforms that will achieve real savings, and said he is pleased that Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe and other Democrats seem willing to talk about the issue.

“I don’t think we’re at an impasse,” O’Bannon said.

Hanger said that partisan politics is getting in the way of reasonable compromise. He noted that Virginia had been planning for several years to build its own health-care exchange website, with the support of GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, but that support for the idea fizzled once the exchanges became entangled in the partisan sniping over Obama’s health plan.

“This polarization of the parties is at an extreme,” Hanger said. “As a Republican now, it seems my job — if I’m playing my role appropriately — is to oppose the Affordable Care Act because we’ve decided we don’t want it to succeed. My opinion is it’s not in the best interest of this state or this country to follow that game plan” and that instead he wants to be looking for a compromise that will produce a workable solution.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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