RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Republican legislative leaders have scheduled a special session in September to debate whether to expand Medicaid eligibility, something GOP lawmakers have already made clear they oppose.
House Speaker William J. Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment announced Wednesday that the General Assembly will be back in session the week of Sept. 22 for a "full and fair" debate on whether Virginia should accept federal Medicaid funds to provide health insurance for as many as 400,000 low income residents.
But the likelihood of the GOP-controlled General Assembly approving Medicaid expansion appears slight, as most Republican lawmakers have repeatedly made clear that they oppose expanding eligibility for the program. Both Howell and Norment reaffirmed their opposition to Medicaid expansion in their news release Wednesday, but said it was important to fulfill promises Republicans made previously to hold a special session.
"This session will provide lawmakers on both sides of this debate with an opportunity to put forward ideas and proposals that can be considered on their merits," Howell said.
But Democratic Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw scoffed at the announcement, saying the Republicans are intransigent on the Medicaid issue and the session will be all for show.
"Even Stevie Wonder could see through this," he said.
Under the Affordable Care Act states can decide whether to expand Medicaid to able-bodied low income adults, something about half the states have done so far. In Virginia, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has made expanding Medicaid a top priority, but has so far been blocked by Republican lawmakers.
Democrats generally support Medicaid expansion. They say it would help the state's poor and point out that the bulk of the program would be funded by the federal government. Republicans oppose expansion because they don't believe the federal government will pay for most of the program and they think the state can't afford a large scale increase of an entitlement program.
The disagreement led to a months-long impasse over the state budget, which ended in victory for Republicans when a Democratic senator abruptly resigned and gave the GOP control of the state Senate.
During the impasse, Republicans promised to hold a special Medicaid session after a budget was passed and urged Democrats to separate the debate over Medicaid expansion from passage of the state's spending plan.
McAuliffe signed a budget that did not include Medicaid expansion last month, but vowed to try and find a way to increase federally funded health care to the poor on his own without legislative approval. He's ordered his staff to prepare a plan by no later than Sept. 1.