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Virginia lawmakers heading back to Richmond to discuss budget, Medicaid expansion

Medicaid will be at the center of the discussion in the Virginia budget. (T. Culbertson, WCYB)

Virginia lawmakers head back to Richmond this week to try and compromise on a state budget. Governor Ralph Northam requested them to return to work on Wednesday. The core issue left to be decided is Medicaid expansion.

Local lawmakers say Medicaid, the state and federal program that provides health coverage if you have a very low income, is the fastest growing budget line-item in Virginia. Now, like many states before Virginia, the General Assembly is again considering expanding it, using federal funding.

"It's a hand-up. It's not a hand out. We want to help people. Those who are working and trying, those are the people we should help," Delegate Terry Kilgore said.

Medicaid reported this January more than 1 million people were enrolled in Virginia's Medicaid program and hundreds of thousands more are in need.

"There are about 400,000 working Virginians that we want to provide coverage for," Governor Ralph Northam said.

The state can expand coverage by taking what many legislators have estimated at half-a-billion dollars in federal funding in a lump sum if the vote goes through.

Northam said, "I do not believe in leaving money on the table and when there's money out there, especially at the federal level that we can bring back to Virginia to use for all these other programs, I encourage Virginia to do that."

Some local lawmakers, including Senator Bill Carrico, remain worried about what the state will have to pay back if federal health care policies change.

"Virginia was a 50/50 state, which would cost us $3.3 billion if we were to expand Medicaid and then they reversed the system. We really have a lot of uncertainty on the federal level," Carrico said.

Virginia will still be required to pay for participation in the program, and Carrico is concerned the expansion could take away from other programs.

Carrico said, "If we go down this road, we may see cuts to education, public safety, everywhere else in order to make the dollars meet, and increases on top of that."

Flipping from his previous opposition, Kilgore is now in favor of expansion, saying keeping the public healthy contributes to an active workforce and will boost the economy. Kilgore is among those pushing for Medicaid recipients to be required to work in exchange for the benefit.

"You're either working or you're training to get a new job or you're doing community service," Kilgore said.

Just last week, a key Senate Republican announced also he would now support Medicaid expansion. Virginia Beach Senator Frank Warner wants to impose a new tax on hospitals and use part of the revenue to give tax credits to lower income Virginians.

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