After years of political fighting, Virginia has voted to expand Medicaid and provide health insurance to approximately 400,000 low-income Virginians.
In Richmond Wednesday, the state Senate and House of Delegates both approved a two-year budget that expands Medicaid and uses the savings to increase funding for education and provide raises for teachers.
After the final vote, Senate Democrats were greeted with cheers, hugs and handshakes from advocates like Marilyn Karp, who have spent years fighting for Medicaid expansion.
“The people and the legislators came together, because what made it so thrilling was to hear them saying the same things we were saying,” Karp said. “So it became one voice!”
Since the budget process began earlier this year, Republicans in the Senate have resisted expansion. But four Republicans defected Wednesday and joined their Democratic colleagues in supporting Medicaid, 22-18.
Senator Ben Chafin, who represents parts of southwest Virginia, was one of the Republicans that flipped. He cited the extra funding that Medicaid expansion opens up for drug courts and mental health facilities.
“And that’s absolutely wonderful to be able to deliver those additional fundings right now through this budget,” Chafin said.
Republican Senator Emmett Hanger, of Augusta, led the charge on the budget compromise. It passed despite last minute attempts to block his efforts by Republican Senate majority leader Tommy Norment.
Republican Senator Mark Obenshain spoke against the proposal, calling it “one of the most liberal budgets” he had seen during his time in state lawmaking.
“This budget substitute embodies all the worst that we expect usually to see out of washington D.C.,” said Obenshain on the floor. “We are spraying, literally spraying, money around to every corner of the commonwealth without considering whether it is a prudent expenditure.”
Expansion represents a Democratic shift in policies after the election in November revamped Virginia’s House of Delegates. It’s also a huge political win for Governor Ralph Northam, a doctor who ran on expanded access to healthcare.
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax says Wednesday’s votes were the direct result of November’s blue wave election.
“Because people came out in large numbers and made their voices heard in 2017 we now stand together today to celebrate this great accomplishment,” Fairfax said at a press conference late Wednesday.
Virginia will be the 33rd state to expand Medicaid.
The budget now goes to the Governor’s desk for a signature.