Democratic victories may keep tens of thousands on Medicaid

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Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has put on Virginia's attempt to impose a work requirement on Medicaid expansion beneficiaries on hold.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) has ordered his administration to "pause" an attempt to get federal permission to impose a work requirement on Medicaid expansion beneficiaries. The move could preserve healthcare coverage for tens of thousands of Virginians.

The Affordable Care Act expanded the number of Americans eligible for Medicaid and ensures that the federal government provide the vast majority of funding to the states for the program. But a 2012 Supreme Court ruling left it up to the states to decide whether to opt-in to the expansion.

After several years of blocking the expansion, Virginia's Republican-controlled legislature adopted a compromise last year that expanded Medicaid, but required the governor to request a federal waiver to allow the state to impose a requirement that forces beneficiaries to show they are working or doing work training.

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This work requirement — a priority for the Republicans who agreed to the compromise — would have kicked an estimated 14,000 to 74,000 of the more than 300,000 people already enrolled in Medicaid off of their coverage. But with Democrats winning new majorities in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate in November and courts showing skepticism about the legality of such rules, Northam's administration has put its waiver request on hold.

"Virginians made clear they want more access to health care, not less," Northam said in a statement on Wednesday. "Given the changed makeup of the General Assembly and based on conversations with new leadership, it is unlikely Virginia will move forward with funding a program that could cause tens of thousands of Virginians to lose health care coverage."

It is expected that the new Democratic legislature will revisit the work requirements when it convenes next month.

Outgoing Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox (R) lamented the decision, suggesting Wednesday that the governor should stick with the requirement imposed by very GOP majorities the voters just rejected.

"I'm disappointed to say the least," he said in a statement. "The governor and I made personal commitments to each other on this long-term public policy agreement. There wasn’t an asterisk that said 'unless my party wins the next election.'"

Another attempt to impose similar requirements in Kentucky — pushed by outgoing Gov. Matt Bevin (R) — is also set to be aborted. A day after Bevin lost reelection last month, Gov.-elect Andy Beshear (D) pledged that he and his administration would rescind the measure in their first week in office. Beshear said that this move would save health care coverage for 95,000 Kentuckians.

The Trump administration has pushed for Medicaid work requirements and for a total repeal of the Affordable Care Act, despite expert opinion that such a move would be detrimental for tens of millions of Americans.

In total, more than 100,000 people may get to keep their health insurance thanks to the Democratic victories in the Kentucky and Virginia.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.