By Senator Lynwood Lewis
May 30, 2018 was a very long day. But at the end of that very long day, one of Virginia’s longest, ongoing policy debates came to an end when both Chambers of the Virginia Legislature, with a bi-partisan vote, passed a budget which contained Medicaid expansion. This contentious issue has been fought over in one form or another for the last five years and to have it behind us and to also receive what many of us believe are the positive public policy impacts through budget savings, better health outcomes in our communities and improved fiscal health for our rural hospitals is a welcome relief.
The Senate of Virginia was gaveled in for the second day of its Special Session at 9:00 a.m. on May 30th and remained in Session through contentious debate, both on the floor and in party caucuses until 7:00 p.m. when the budget bill passed. The House acted on the budget shortly thereafter. Part of the grand compromise reached by unofficial Senate and House negotiators since adjournment of the regular Session was that there would be no amendments accepted and that the Bill had to go in its introduced form to Governor Northam for his signature. While tempting to offer amendments or vote for amendments that were in fact actually offered the majority of both bodies honored the compromise in order to get the budget done and to expand Virginia’s system program of Medicaid. Virginia will be the 33rd state to expand its Medicaid program with 90% of the expansion cost borne by the Federal government. So important was expansion to our Commonwealth’s hospitals that they volunteered to have a new tax imposed on themselves called a “Provider Assessment” which will pay the Commonwealth’s 10% of the expansion cost as well as provide additional funds to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates. The savings which result from the expansion of Medicaid are significant and were interspersed throughout the budget. The budget includes funding for the State’s share of a 3% teacher’s raise, State employees a 2% pay raise and there were investments made in K-12 public education as well as higher education. Significant deposits will be made to our two “savings accounts” which help the Commonwealth in time of economic down turn.
In addition to benefiting from those and other Commonwealth-wide investments, the Eastern Shore received $1 million for its new public library and Heritage Center and money for a study of the impacts on the changing Chincoteague Inlet was authorized. In addition, a Bill creating a Waterway Maintenance Fund passed and with budget amendment sponsored by Delegate Keith Hodges on the House side was funded with $1.3 million which is an important first step in Virginia stepping up to fill the need for dredging in rural coastal Virginia.
The expansion of Medicaid will begin January 1, 2019 when new enrollees in Virginia’s Medicaid system will be accepted. Virginia has one of the leanest and toughest to qualify for Medicaid systems in the Country. The existing program will continue to be a 50/50 match between Virginia and the Federal government. Only the cost of new enrollees allowed under the expansion, those at 138% or less of the Federal poverty level, estimated to be approximately 400,000 people, will be subject to this heightened 90% Federal match.
With a Budget signed and new legislation signed, we will now begin scheduling my post General Assembly Session Town Halls.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns. I am available at my district office and can be reached at 757-787-1094, Post Office Box 760, Accomac, Virginia 23301, firstname.lastname@example.org.