The 2014 Session is well underway. This year, like every year, we have challenges to conquer to meet the needs of the Commonwealth’s 8.3 million residents. Before we get to those challenges, we have to go through the ceremony that is required every four years.
Last week, Governor McDonnell gave his farewell address highlighting his achievements over the past four years: over 170,000 new jobs in Virginia, brought on largely by the national economic recovery, success in increasing the number of children adopted out of foster care, and last year’s monumental transportation plan. He also apologized for his role in the gift scandal that plagued his last year in office. The matter is currently under continuing federal investigation. There are many who will suggest that all politicians receive such largesse, so Governor McDonnell’s culpability is insignificant; however, I take exception to that. Sure, there are a fair amount of free dinners and even vacations that people involved in politics accept. But the magnitude of the gifts accepted by the McDonnell family, and the fact that they weren’t reported, is unprecedented and leaves a stain on the McDonnell administration.
On Saturday, amidst a steady rain, Governor Terry McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, and Attorney General Mark Herring were inaugurated. Whether it was a sign from above or not, the rain lifted and the sun came out at about the same time Governor McAuliffe began his address. The following Monday, the Governor outlined his priorities in an address before the Joint Assembly of the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. Primary among his priorities is Medicaid expansion.
Medicaid is insurance provided by the federal government since the 1960s. The program is regulated and funded to a large degree by state governments, which historically have been able to determine to whom it is provided. Under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, the role of Medicaid would be expanded by increasing eligibility. The federal government has committed to funding 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for the first three years and 90 percent of expansion cost the following three years. Virginia has already adopted regulations requiring us to pull out of expansion if at any time federal funding of the cost of expansion falls below the 90 percent threshold. Expansion in Virginia makes good sense. We will provide coverage to an additional two to four hundred thousand Virginians. The health care of those Virginians is presently being subsidized by those who pay private insurance. Because they can’t afford preventative care, their health care needs are met primarily in emergency rooms. When hospitals aren’t paid for emergency room care, the costs are written off and insurance rates must go up to cover those costs. As many as 30 thousand veterans are among the Virginians who can benefit from expansion. It is inexcusable that these people who have given so much to this country return home to poverty.
It also makes good business sense for us to expand Medicaid. As noted above, the uninsured currently drive up the cost of insurance and thus health care. We simply have to find a way to control the cost of health care. In addition, Virginia will receive about $2.1 billion in federal funding per year for the next three years if we support expansion. The investment of federal dollars will continue and injects over $5 million a day into Virginia’s economy. As a result, Medicaid expansion is expected to create about 30,000 jobs, primarily in the health care field, over the next six years.
We lost a rural hospital in southwest Virginia this past year. These critical federal dollars, which all Virginians will pay in the form of taxes whether we expand Medicaid or not, could, save rural hospitals all over Virginia. Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do.
Much attention has been paid to my focus this session on mental health. In fact, that issue is important to me and will take a significant amount of time. However, I am working on other legislation, including:
- A bill to extend the statute of limitations to one year past the 18th birthday of a victim of a misdemeanor involving sexual misconduct.
- A bill to consolidate the law enforcement divisions of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
- Several bills to revise the Standards of Learning tests for elementary age children.
- A bill that would include conservation officers who work in our State Parks as members of the Virginia Law Officers Retirement System.
- An effort to create a state park in either Highland County or Rockingham County.
- A bill to reform the Board of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
On a personal note, thanks to all for your prayers and support during a tough time. Your kind expressions have been overwhelming.
This will be a busy session for me. I look forward to hearing from you as we move through the session. I appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. Concerns, questions, or requests should be directed to my office at: PO Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218, [email protected], or (804) 698-7525.