It’s hard to believe, but we are nearing the end of the 2013 General Assembly Session. This week, we are working to reach agreement on several major initiatives, including transportation. The last two weeks are always among the busiest of the Session as we sprint to the finish line.
As we near the end of session, one of the major issues before us is Medicaid expansion. Medicaid provides quality health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals, most of whom would not have any other way to receive needed medical care.
Over the past few months we have received seemingly limitless information both in favor of and opposed to Medicaid expansion. There are many potential benefits to expansion; however we must also be careful to weigh the potential costs. This year, my House Republican colleagues and I have focused on a “reform first” approach to Medicaid.
Last year, Virginia’s taxpayers spent $7 billion on Medicaid. If we opted to expand Medicaid, it could potentially add over 250,000 new enrollees to the system. This would further drive up the costs if we do not implement reforms. By reforming Medicaid, we would lower costs and be able to use these cost savings to focus on providing better care for both current and new enrollees.
The House Budget directs the Department of Medical Assistance to seek authority for reforms from the federal government. Currently, our hands are tied, because the federal government clearly defines how Medicaid must be run. If we were able to receive a waiver from the federal government, however, we may be able to implement a number of cost saving reforms focused on eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse. After those reforms are implemented, DMAS may ask the General Assembly for final authority to expand Medicaid.
Few will disagree that the Medicaid system desperately needs reform. It is the fastest growing single line item in the Virginia budget, and the cost is becoming more than we can bear. Federal regulations further drive up costs due to the lack of flexibility in coverage policies.
In a 2010 JLARC study, they found that nearly $90 million of our taxpayer dollars are wasted due to fraud, abuse, and error. This is unacceptable, and will only be further exacerbated if we add more to the system without first implementing reform.
If we were able to get a waiver from the federal government, we would have the flexibility to implement much-needed cost saving reforms. These savings could then be used for the purpose of Medicaid expansion.
Some have called for a simultaneous expansion and reform of Medicaid. Those calling for this approach also claim that the expansion would mostly be covered by federal funding. I remain skeptical of federal programs that claim to save money, particularly given the current state of Washington’s budget. We have a promise from the federal government, but it is a promise that I fear they will not have the resources to keep.
If we proceed with Medicaid expansion without reform, I fear that our hardworking Virginian taxpayers could be stuck with a big bill. Perhaps of greater concern, I fear that Virginia could become mired in an inefficient, ineffective program, without the authority to fix it. Therefore I believe that reform must come first.
Simply put, Medicaid is too important of a program, and there is too much at stake, not to make needed reforms as we consider expansion. We are doing the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who depend on Medicaid a disservice if we do not ensure that we are providing the most efficient, most effective program possible. If we can strengthen Medicaid, we will strengthen our safety net.
Medicaid reform is the most responsible solution to Medicaid expansion in the Commonwealth. It also provides a pathway to Medicaid expansion that all Virginians can agree on.
Concealed Carry Legislation
One piece of legislation that a number of you reached out to me about in the past week was Mark Obenshain’s Senate Bill 1335. Both the House and Senate have now voted to end public disclosure of conceal carry permit holders’ personal information.
In 2007, a Virginia newspaper obtained and published a list of all Virginia concealed carry permit holders. In response, the General Assembly prohibited the State Police from releasing the conceal carry permit list. Circuit Court Clerks, however, could still make the list available to the public.
In the wake of a newspaper outlet in New York publishing a similar list, many believed now was the right time for Virginia to close the availability of the list. I voted to close access to this list and help protect law-abiding citizens from personal attacks and threats simply because they choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
Moving Forward on Transportation
I am happy to report that some progress was made on transportation this week. Unfortunately, no agreement has been made yet, but we have taken steps in that direction. On Wednesday, the State Senate passed House Bill 2313, with amendments. By passing their version of the transportation plan, they moved the discussion forward. The House of Delegates rejected the Senate amendments, and requested a Committee of Conference. The conference committee will be working over the next few days to come up with a transportation plan that members of both chambers can agree upon.
I assure you that I will update you on the details of any agreement made by the conference committee as they come to me.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of bills pass in both bodies this year. I filed 12 bills and 1 resolution this session. Of those, 8 bills have already passed in both the House of Delegates and the Senate. One more will be voted on for final passage on Monday.
House Joint Resolution 536, a resolution that seeks to amend the Constitution of Virginia to include Right to Work, failed in the Senate today with a vote of 22-18. Though we were unsuccessful, the Senate floor is the farthest this legislation has ever gone. The right to work is a basic and fundamental right, and should be part of the Virginia constitution to ensure that it is permanent. I believe this fight will continue.
A couple of other noteworthy bills that have passed this week include House Bill 2151 and House Bill 1344.
House Bill 2151, the Educator Fairness Act, is a bill that I have mentioned numerous times over the course of the 2013 General Assembly Session. It passed in the Senate on Wednesday with a vote of 32-8. This legislation is a huge step for education in Virginia, and will help ensure the integrity of the education system. I hope that it is also a step towards paying teachers like the professionals that they are. I would like to thank all of those who have worked so hard to help this legislation become the best bill it could be.
House Bill 1344, the Deaf Child’s Bill, is also a bill that was a priority for me during the 2013 Session. It was brought to me by a group of constituents from the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, and will help ensure that the communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing students are considered as part of their IEP. I believe this bill will help us ensure that deaf and hard of hearing students in Virginia receive the greatest education possible in their least restrictive environment. I’m pleased that this bill maintained broad bipartisan support, and am thankful to those from the Staunton community who traveled to Richmond to testify for the bill.
As Session is winding down so are the visitors we receive here in Richmond.
As always, I was pleased to see students from the Augusta and Highland County 4-H programs. Several members of the Waynesboro City Council stopped by, as well as President John Downey and several students from Blue Ridge Community College.
We only have one week left, but if you haven’t made it in to see us yet we would still love to see you. If you plan to be in Richmond next week, please stop by and say hello. We are in room 517 in the General Assembly Building.
My staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. We would love to hear from you regarding legislation before the House, or if there's anything we can do to help you in dealing with a state government agency.
While we are in Richmond, we can be reached by phone at (804) 698-1020 or by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.
Please note that while we appreciate your feedback, while we are in Session we often receive hundreds of emails a day. We work hard to provide a response to all inquiries, but it takes time to respond to everyone so we are often a few days behind. Thank you for your patience.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.