- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday it is time for Richmond lawmakers to “put the excuses aside” and pass a budget that expands health coverage to 400,000 low-income residents under Obamacare.

The Democratic leader is poised to break through an eight-year GOP blockade against expanding Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor, as the state Senate takes up a two-year budget bill.

Two state Senate Republicans backed expansion after sweeping Democratic victories last fall, improving its prospects.

“Hopefully they’ll vote in favor of this and we’ll get a budget and then we’ll go to the House,” Mr. Northam told WTOP radio.

The Old Dominion would be the 33rd state to expand the federal-state program for the poor to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

“These are Virginians that may have one, two or three jobs, but the cost of health care may have risen faster than their salaries,” the governor said.

GOP allies failed to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act last year, freeing states to expand its footprint. For instance, Maine voters opted to expand their own Medicaid program, though Republican Gov. Paul LePage says he will not implement it until the state share is fully paid for.

Under President Barack Obama’s signature program, the federal government is required to pay 94 percent of the cost of the expanded Medicaid population this year and 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

Conservative opponents say expansion will bust states’ budgets, as they struggle to pay the increasing tab as the federal share shrinks.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative pressure group, is set to rally with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania ahead of the Richmond votes and call for renewed efforts to repeal Obamacare.

Yet Mr. Northam said his embrace of federal Obamacare funds is a no-brainer.

The windfall will help them battle the opioids crisis and compete with other states that are drawing down federal-taxpayer dollars that support health care sector, he told WTOP.

“From a business perspective, it makes absolutely no sense [not to expand],” Mr. Northam said. “It’s time to put the excuses aside, whether you’re in favor of the Affordable Care Act or not.”

The governor hopes to implement Medicaid expansion by January 2019.

In a compromise, Virginia would request a waiver from the Trump administration that requires newly eligible residents to seek work as a condition of their benefits — a measure GOP lawmakers wanted, forcing Democrats to compromise.

“We’ll do everything we can to help people get back into the workforce,” Mr. Northam said.

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