Koch Money Flows Into the Obamacare Medicaid Fight

A new Americans for Prosperity radio ad says supporters’ push to expand the low-income health insurance program is to blame for the looming state government shutdown.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: Sisters and Tea Party members of Atlanta, Georgia, Judy Burel (L) and Janis Haddon (R), protest the Obamacare in front of the U.S. Supreme Court March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court continued to hear oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Feb. 26, 2014, 11:11 a.m.

A power­ful con­ser­vat­ive group is wad­ing in­to Vir­gin­ia’s fight over Obama­care’s Medi­caid ex­pan­sion.

In a new ra­dio ad, Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity says new Demo­crat­ic Gov. Terry McAul­iffe’s bid to ex­pand the low-in­come in­sur­ance pro­gram is akin to for­cing the Af­ford­able Care Act on Vir­gin­ia’s cit­izens, and says the ex­pan­sion would di­min­ish the qual­ity of care for res­id­ents of the com­mon­wealth.

Fur­ther, the “Shut­down” ad blames sup­port­ers of the Medi­caid ex­pan­sion for the cur­rent budget im­passe in the state Le­gis­lature.

“Lets face it: Medi­caid ex­pan­sion is Obama­care, and it’s threat­en­ing the qual­ity of health care for mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans,” says the ad’s nar­rat­or. “In Vir­gin­ia you could lose your health care, or your doc­tor. And some le­gis­lat­ors might even shut down our state gov­ern­ment over it.”

While Koch groups claim they stayed out of the fed­er­al shut­down de­bate the last time around, they’re in­ject­ing their opin­ion — and dol­lars — in­to the battle in Vir­gin­ia.

“This is bad policy that will likely sig­ni­fic­antly re­duce the qual­ity of care for hun­dreds of thou­sands of Vir­gini­ans, and it is ir­re­spons­ible for some le­gis­lat­ors in Rich­mond to put polit­ics over people by hold­ing the budget host­age and threat­en­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down over Obama­care,” said AFP-Vir­gin­ia State Dir­ect­or Sean Lans­ing.

Vir­gin­ia briefly ap­peared poised to ad­opt its own ver­sion of Medi­caid ex­pan­sion, which would use fed­er­al funds to buy private plans on the in­sur­ance ex­change for low-in­come in­di­vidu­als. A sim­il­ar plan was ap­proved and im­ple­men­ted in Arkan­sas, and the state’s Le­gis­lature is cur­rently de­bat­ing its re­new­al. The Arkan­sas gov­ern­ment is also at risk of a shut­down if mem­bers of the House can­not agree on a way for­ward.

Mod­er­ate Vir­gin­ia state Sen. John Watkins, a Re­pub­lic­an, pro­posed a bi­par­tis­an Medi­caid ex­pan­sion plan that would in­clude pro­vi­sions to make it more pal­at­able to con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers. The pro­pos­al would re­quire un­em­ployed cov­er­age re­cip­i­ents to look for work, re­quire a per­cent­age of their wages in pay­ment, and al­low the state to back out in the fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post. It would ex­tend cov­er­age to those be­low 138 per­cent of the poverty level and use $1.7 bil­lion per year in fed­er­al taxes col­lec­ted in Vir­gin­ia un­der the health law to buy private plans.

However, dis­dain for Obama­care in any form re­mains too strong for some law­makers, and the House de­cis­ively voted down the plan 67-32. Sixty-six of the 67 mem­bers of the House voted against it.

Each cham­ber has passed its own budget pro­pos­al, and neither seems pre­pared to budge on the is­sue of Medi­caid ex­pan­sion. The Vir­gin­ia Le­gis­lature needs to pass a budget be­fore March 8 or risk a spe­cial le­gis­lat­ive ses­sion, and po­ten­tially a shut­down.

McAul­iffe made Medi­caid ex­pan­sion a pri­or­ity dur­ing his cam­paign, and is cur­rently at­tempt­ing to garner sup­port and keep good on his prom­ise.

The Vir­gin­ia Cham­ber of Com­merce and state busi­ness lead­ers have called on Re­pub­lic­an rep­res­ent­at­ives to ac­cept the Medi­caid funds, say­ing it would be­ne­fit the state’s eco­nomy. Hos­pit­als are push­ing for ex­pan­sion as well, as they face fund­ing cuts as a res­ult of the ACA.

“There’s a battle in Vir­gin­ia between Pres­id­ent Obama, Gov­ernor McAul­iffe, and those com­mit­ted to qual­ity health care,” warns the AFP-Vir­gin­ia ad.

Time is lim­ited to find some kind of truce, and cov­er­age for 400,000 Vir­gini­ans is on the line.

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