The gallery of Virginia’s State Senate was filled with supporters of Medicaid expansion Wednesday as lawmaker gaveled in for a special session.
State legislators will be working on the budget, as well as deciding whether to expand health insurance to the poor. The final decision on could still be weeks away, but advocates still made an effort to have their voices heard.
A small crowd, some from as far away as Roanoke, stood outside the capitol building Wednesday morning as lawmakers filed in. They shouted “Thank you!” to legislators who have been supportive of expansion.
“Presence is important today and a statement to be made,” says Christine Payne, a nurse in Williamsburg.
The Senate and House of Delegates adjourned after a short day of procedural votes. Nothing happens now until Friday, when the House Appropriations Committee will meet to discuss the state budget.
“We will pass a House budget. I think it will look fairly similar to what you’ve seen in the past,” Speaker of the House Kirk Cox told reporters after the House adjourned.
Cox says the House budget will still include Medicaid expansion, but this time with stronger work requirements.
“If you’re going to expand Medicaid, you know the work requirement has always been a key reform,” he said. “And so I think that will get a lot of support.”
Republicans in the House are trying to convince Republicans in the Senate to vote for expansion. GOP Senators had criticized the previous work requirements as lacking teeth.
Cox says the House is aiming to pass its budget next Tuesday. Senators don't get to dig in until after that.
Just ahead of the special session, two key Republican Senators announced they would support a budget that expanded Medicaid. But their vision for what expansion looks like, including how the savings are spent and how Virginia would pay its share of the cost, are contradictory.
The rest of the Senate Republican Caucus remains opposed.
Which of those opinions will win out is still a big question mark. At the earliest, there likely won’t be answers until the middle of next week.
Lawmakers have until July 1 to pass a budget, otherwise the state government could shut down.