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McAuliffe proposes 2-year pilot Medicaid expansion

(AP) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe proposed a two-year pilot of an expanded Medicaid program Monday in a bid to persuade Republicans to end an impasse over the state’s budget.

The new Democratic governor announced the plan shortly before the General Assembly returned to Richmond for the start of a special session. A few hours later, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to reject McAuliffe’s proposal. The Democratically controlled Senate took no action.

Under the governor’s plan, Virginia would accept federal Medicaid funding in exchange for expanding eligibility for government-financed health care to 400,000 low-income residents. If the expansion wasn’t helping the state after two years, the governor said he would pull the plug.

McAuliffe also announced his administration had received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying that Virginia would not face a financial penalty if its expanded Medicaid program lasted only two years.

The governor and House Republicans have been deadlocked on whether to expand Medicaid, which is a key part of the new federal health law. By limiting its implementation to a two-year trial period, McAuliffe is trying to offer political cover for Republicans to drop their objections to Medicaid expansion.

“If expansion doesn’t help our people, then I and I alone will take the responsibility,” McAuliffe said. “Everybody else is off the hook.”

But House Republicans appeared little moved by McAuliffe’s proposal.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said McAuliffe was hurting local governments and state universities by putting passage of a state budget at risk. Cox wants the General Assembly to pass a budget and then take up Medicaid expansion in a separate special session.

“The message is: clean budget now,” Cox said.

McAuliffe and the Senate want to pass a roughly two-year, $96 billion budget that includes Medicaid expansion. The governor has said the state, and its rural health centers in particular, cannot afford to forgo $5 million a day in federal funds that would accompany an expansion.

The governor also proposed that a 2 percent raise for virtually all full-time state employees, teachers and faculty be included in the budget. His budget proposal ties funding for the raises to projected savings on indigent care costs if Medicaid was expanded.

House Republicans have argued Virginia should be wary of implementing a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care initiative based on its flawed rollout.

The stalemate led to the General Assembly adjourning from its regular session earlier this month without passing a budget.

— ALAN SUDERMAN, Associated Press

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