The General Assembly adjourned on Saturday, March 8th. The state budget, however, remains to be finalized. I’ll be holding a Town Hall to discuss this and other issues on March 19th (details below). As you may have heard, the Governor has called for a special session to convene on March 24th to settle the spending plan.
The hot button issue in the budget this year is medicaid expansion. As someone who works in healthcare, I whole-heartedly support expanding Medicaid because it makes good business sense for the Commonwealth. Not only will expanding Medicaid free up nearly $1 billion for the Commonwealth, but since January 1,Virginia has been turning away $5 million per day in our own federal taxpayer contributed funds. The funding would expand Virginia’s very limited-eligibility Medicaid program to individuals and families who do not earn enough to buy insurance on the federal insurance exchange. Under our current Medicaid program, only poor children, pregnant women, disabled individuals, and the poor elderly qualify for assistance. Medicaid expansion would provide routine health care for the first time to single adults under 65 and working families. Medicaid expansion will save lives and save money!
While there are differing points of view on Medicaid, it is the highest priority to get a budget passed in order to properly fund Virginia localities.
Even with the intense budget debate, the General Assembly did pass some important legislation this session:
- A bill that reduces the number of SOL tests in elementary and middle schools by eight and puts in place mechanisms to review the effectiveness of the remaining tests and alternative critical thinking tests in the future.
- An ethics reform bill passed that puts more limits on gifts and closes some questionable loopholes. While not as robust as it should be, it is a step in the right direction to ensure fairness in political contributions and keep members of the government accountable.
- Critical mental health needs were addressed in a bill that provides for a registry of psychiatric beds, and the establishment of state facilities as providers of last resort for any individual deemed to require hospitalization. This will prevent someone from being released after an Emergency Custody Order expires just because a bed cannot be identified.
Before the General Assembly reconvenes, I want to hear from you. Please join me and Senator John Edwards for a Town Hall on Medicaid Expansion and Session Update. The event will be held at the Dumas Center in Roanoke at 5 p.m.