Business Groups Clash on Va. Medicaid Expansion

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The Virginia Chamber of Commerce and state business leaders renewed their call Monday for Republican House lawmakers to accept billions in federal Medicaid funds, saying it would be a boost for the state's economy.

The group said at a Capitol news conference that the state's businesses are counting on lawmakers reaching a deal that would increase the number of low-income Virginia residents who qualify for publicly financed health insurance in exchange for roughly $2 billion a year in federal funds. The move would help the state's working poor while lowering Virginia's overall health care cost, business leaders said.

"We understand it's politically difficult, but the business case is compelling," said Kevin Reynolds, president of Cardinal Bank.

Most Republican state lawmakers have expressed opposition to expanding Medicaid eligibility to about 400,000 residents, saying the current program is growing at an unsustainable rate and needs to be fixed before any large-scale expansion. They also are reluctant to endorse a key part of the new federal health care law known as the Affordable Care Act, one of Democratic President Barack Obama's signature laws.

In an effort to make expanding Medicaid coverage more politically palatable, supporters have backed a plan in the Democratically controlled Senate that would emphasize the use of private insurers. Chamber President Barry DuVal said business groups support this approach, along with other ``market-oriented'' approaches.

But the majority of the state's current Medicaid enrollees already receive their health insurance through private providers, and Republicans have belittled the Senate's plan as Medicaid expansion by another name.

The Virginia Chamber also proposed that the General Assembly vote on whether to renew an expanded Medicaid program every four years. Republicans have scoffed at the idea that there would be the political will to take away an entitlement program once implemented.

Shortly after the chamber had finished its news conference, leaders from the GOP-controlled House held one of their own with Nicole Riley, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. She said the 5,500 small business owners that her group represents overwhelmingly oppose an expanded Medicaid program.

"Not everybody in the business community thinks that expanding Medicaid is a good idea," Riley said.

The General Assembly is set to adjourn next week and there are little signs of a compromise between the House and the Senate on whether to expand Medicaid eligibility.

On Monday, Republicans accused Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who was at Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg to promote expanded Medicaid eligibility Monday, of pushing the state toward a budget impasse that could lead to a government shutdown.

"You'll see us grinding for the next week trying to get this budget done, and he's out basically grandstanding on this issue that has no business being in the budget," said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox.

McAuliffe's spokesman, Brian Coy, said the governor remains "very hopeful" that a compromise solution can be found before the legislative session ends next week.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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