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Betrayed on Medicaid
But What Did Republicans Expect?
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND, VA – When Capitol Square watchers think of the numerous legislative committees and commissions and which ones most likely to generate news, the Joint Subcommittee for Health and Human Resources Oversight doesn’t stand out. Most are likely to ask what a Joint Subcommittee for Health and Human Resources Oversight does and why we have or need one.

Last week it became obvious when the Northam Administration shocked Republicans on the panel by reporting that it is applying to the federal government for broad exceptions to the work requirement for newly eligible Medicaid recipients under the Obamacare Medicaid expansion adopted during the last session — in special session — of the General Assembly. According to proponents, up to 400,000 people are now eligible. That’s a lot of exceptions.

The work requirement was the selling point the dozen-plus Republican delegates — who teamed up with Democrats and Governor Ralph Northam to pass it — gave for capitulating to the plan that is the single largest expansion of Virginia government in decades, potentially costing Virginians hundreds of millions of dollars for years upon years, deep into the future. It, and a few other aspects of the authorization, supposedly created a "conservative Medicaid.”

Now, much like the police chief in Casablanca who "discovered” gambling at Rick’s, Republicans are "shocked.” Imagine that. Did they really expect anything different? Did they really trust the left rather than their conservative allies and think tanks, and, more importantly, their 30-plus colleagues who voted against it for precisely this reason?

That’s what happens when you play nice with people who have don’t have reciprocal intentions. It’s one big we told you so.

While opposition to the proposed waiver application was predictable from Republican opponents of the deal, such as House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Steve Landes (R-Augusta), who said some of the exceptions were big enough to "drive a Mack truck through,” others expressed a sense of betrayal. The most prominent was Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), the chief author of the plan, who was alarmed at several categories of exemptions. He noted, for example, the exemption for domestic violence victims, who, he said, typically want to gain employment quickly in order to bring normalcy back to the lives.

Delegate Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg), a doctor who adamantly opposed the expansion for years before folding his tent this year and who blasted the majority of his GOP colleagues who did not join the Medicaid free-for-all, was angry about the "litany of exemptions,” especially one crafted to allow a quick return to Medicaid eligibility for people who were disqualified for not participating in the work (or study or community service or education or training substitute) requirements to begin with.

Even Senate Finance Committee Co- Chairman Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), the swing vote and engineer of the plan in the Senate, while generally supportive of the waiver plan thus far, was concerned about the work requirement. He told administration officials that opponents of the work requirement "forgot that when you strike a deal, you adhere to both sides of it.”

True that. But Republicans have learned a hard lesson: Don’t strike horrible deals with opponents who want to see you fail — and don’t act surprised that they try to accomplish that.


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