Virginia legislature votes to expand Medicaid

by Caroline Corrigan

RUSSELL COUNTY, VA (WJHL)- – The governor of Virginia is set to sign the state’s recently approved budget early next week.

When he does, he will clear the way for an additional 400,000 low-income Virginians to get Medicaid health coverage.

For years Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly have held off a push to expand the state’s Medicaid program over concerns about how to pay for it.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County said he couldn’t vote against it anymore.

“I came to the conclusion that ‘no’ just wasn’t the answer anymore, that doing nothing about the medical conditions, the state of health care in my district, just wasn’t the answer any longer,” Chafin said.

Chafin told News Channel 11 over the phone that he broke ranks with his party because of a provision that will require Medicaid recipients to work.

“They would have to seek job, they would have to have a job or they would have to perform some type of community service,” Chafin said. “We also put a very effective kill switch on it so that if the federal funding, currently the funding is 90% federal and 10% commonwealth, if the federal funding went away then the program would end.”

Dr. Teresa Tyson of the Health Wagon said she has seen first hand how many people in Southwest Virginia go without healthcare.

“This piece of legislation will certainly save lives,” Tyson said. “I mean there are 400,000 Virginians and most of those are going to be here in Southwest Virginia that are going to benefit from passing that piece of legislation.”

Jill McDonough said she may be one of them. She’s a student working at the Health Wagon and she’s worried about her future health coverage.

“I have thyroid problems, I have heart problems and now I will be able to see the specialist I need to see as well as be able to afford my medication,” McDonough said “I want to be here to watch my son grow up, I want to be able to take care of myself.”

The change will take effect January 1. The expansion relies heavily on federal funding and Virginia lawmakers still have to answer some questions about how the state will cover it’s share of the expanded insurance coverage.

On Thursday, Ballad Health’s spokesperson Taylor Hamilton issued regarding Virginia’s decision to expand Medicaid.

“This budget ensure the federal taxes we pay come back to our communities, and the new education and job training requirements will help more people find more work – all of which is good for the Virginia taxpayer,” Hamilton said.