Bell Sounds from the 20th : Virginia General Assembly Passes a Budget

This Wednesday, the General Assembly finally passed a two-year budget, which includes Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.  In doing so, we completely abandoned a long tradition of fiscal responsibility in governance and conservative principles in budgeting.

I stood with the vast majority of Republican legislators and voted against this budget every step of the way.  The Democratic Party is claiming this as a victory, but let me be clear; they could not have done this without the support of the four Republican Senators and nineteen Republican House members who joined them in support of expansion. 

To say that this process has been frustrating for those of us who have stood  against expansion would be an understatement.  That frustration does not even compare to the frustration that we will undoubtedly see in Virginians over the coming months and years as their premiums and healthcare costs continue to rise.

Proponents of this healthcare plan, especially those Republicans who supported expansion, have continually touted this as a conservative approach to expansion, complete with a work requirement.  Please understand, however, that there is no light version of expansion. We either accept the federal funds or we do not. The work requirement is more like a work suggestion, and these conservative reforms hinge on waivers from the federal government. 

Republican Senators attempted to offer an amendment yesterday that would ensure these modest reforms were approved before expansion, but those amendments were rejected. Self-proclaimed conservatives have touted these reforms as a way to promote accountability and self-sufficiency, but the reality is we are likely to end up with Medicaid expansion with no accountability.

The consequences of this short-sighted action extend well beyond healthcare.  The spending in this budget is unsustainable.  It contains $600 million in new taxes in the form of a “bed tax” on hospitals.  This tax will be passed on directly to Virginians in the form of hospital bills and increased insurance premiums. The revenue from this tax will not, however, sustain the spending levels that we passed on Wednesday. 

If enrollment exceeds our predictions as it has in many other states or if the federal government is unable to fulfill its promise on the federal money, the General Assembly will have to face some incredibly tough decisions to fill the holes this would leave in the budget.   This would likely mean a decision to either raise taxes or face dramatic cuts to core government services like education, public safety, and transportation.

I am not deaf to the healthcare needs of our community and our commonwealth. I simply do not believe that this is the correct approach.  Medicaid expansion does nothing to address the underlying healthcare problem: the cost.  It will not reduce insurance premiums, it will not lower the cost of medical treatment, and it will not reduce out of pocket expenses.  Instead it expands to able-bodied adults an already out of control government program that was originally intended as a safety net for the truly needy.

We need to bring down health care costs, increase competition between health insurers and providers, and reduce insurance premiums and deductibles so that more Virginians can afford health insurance. This year, we advanced several legislative initiatives that attempted to address healthcare costs. This included: measures to permit the offering of lower cost catastrophic care coverage, a bill to allow organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to offer group plans, and an initiative to incentivize consumers to seek out lower cost care and increase transparency from providers. Several of these bi-partisan bills made it to the Governor’s desk, but all met their fate with a partisan veto.

If there is a silver lining in this week’s action it is that we have passed a budget before the July 1 deadline. This will give our school divisions, localities, and state agencies the much-needed certainty they need to create their own budgets and will ensure that we avoid a government shut down in July.

This week’s actions are a good reminder to us all that elections have consequences. While I am disappointed in the actions of the House and Senate, I’m proud of the clear majority of both the House and Senate Republican caucuses that stood firm against this expansion of government.  I hope that we will be strengthened by this setback and be ready to resume the fight for fiscal responsibility and responsible government when we return to Richmond in January.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment