Remarks by House Majority Leader Kirk Cox on Medicaid Expansion

Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) delivered remarks on Medicaid expansion on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates Monday. The full text of the remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As you all know, the House and Senate budget proposals were released yesterday. I often say that the budget is the most important thing we do in Richmond.

So I want to thank Chairman Jones, the members of the House Appropriations Committee, especially the subcommittee chairs, and the appropriations staff for doing a really great job in writing the House budget.

The House budget proposal is a really solid proposal that invests in the core functions of government, sets some pretty clear priorities and ensures the Commonwealth remains on a prudent fiscal course.

I want to highlight a few of the key points of the House proposal.

First – the House proposals provides a path to fully fund the state retirement plan almost three years ahead of schedule.

As you know, we had to make some pretty tough choices during the worst part of the economic downturn. But we committed ourselves to fully restoring our investment in VRS by 2019. This budget would do that by 2016.

Second – the House proposal includes over $200 million for the health care safety net. This includes over $118 million for our hospitals and teaching hospitals, over $111 million for our nursing homes and $6 million for our free clinics and community health care centers. It also provides for 750 ID and 65 DD waiver slots.

Caring for Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens is important. This budget does that.

Third – the House budget includes 210-million for higher education, including 20 million to help keep tuition costs down for Virginia families and $6 million for more in-state tuition slots.

As I said yesterday in my remarks to the Appropriations committee, the 20 million commitment we are making comes with one very clear expectation – tuition increases at Virginia colleges and universities should be held to the bare minimum. Ensuring access and keeping college affordable for Virginia families is absolutely critical to our Commonwealth’s long-term health.

Fourth – the House budget includes nearly 50 million in funding for mental health services. This includes 10 million in new funding for new beds at state hospitals, new PAC teams and new crisis drop-off centers.

Mr. Speaker, these are just a few of the key highlights. On top of all this, there is over 500 million in new funding for K-12 education, a pay raise or bonus for all state employees, funding for sheriffs and police officers and much more.

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, all of this is in jeopardy. All of this is in jeopardy because the Senate has decided to inject Washington-style politics into Virginia’s budget process.

Last year, members of both parties in both Houses agreed to a process that took Medicaid expansion out of the budget debate. We created the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission and tasked that group with reforming Virginia’s current Medicaid system before we moved forward with expansion.

That is what the budget conferees agreed to. That is what members in this House agreed to. And that is what the Senate agreed to.

We did that because we wanted to avoid holding up the entire budget over one issue.

We did that because we knew that funding for our schools, local governments, health care providers and law enforcement was too important.

We did that because we did not want to see Virginia consumed by Washington-style gridlock.

But despite this, the Senate has brought us right back to where we were one year ago. Democrats have decided to play a high-stakes game of chicken for the sake of expanding ObamaCare in Virginia. They have decided to hold hostage millions of dollars in funding for schools, teachers, police officers and hospitals in exchange for ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion.

I have a long list of reasons for opposing Medicaid expansion. I have a long list of reasons for opposing the Senate version of Medicaid expansion.

But regardless of where you stand on the issue of Medicaid expansion, threatening to derail the entire budget is not acceptable. And it is certainly not the Virginia way.

Mr. Speaker, I think you and most of the members of this House have been very clear about why we oppose Medicaid expansion.

One of the primary reasons, Mr. Speaker, is that we have witnessed the problems with the implementation of the President’s health care reform law. We think it would be irresponsible to further entangle Virginia in Washington’s health care mess.

The Affordable Care Act was bad law. It was rushed through the legislative process – passed on Christmas Eve in one chamber and the middle of the night in the other.

And over the last four years we have watched as the administration tried desperately to fix a flawed piece of legislation – either by rewriting it by executive fiat or ignoring parts of it altogether. We all saw the problems with the website. We have heard from members of this Chamber about the cancelled health plans.

What the Senate has proposed, Mr. Speaker, is an enormous undertaking not unlike that of ObamaCare. We have to establish a state health exchange, partner with insurance companies to provide policies, write regulations, find the uninsured, sign them up through a website, confirm their eligibility and then finally enroll them in health plans.

But by including this in their budget, rather than as a standalone piece of legislation, the Senate is basically trying to do in two weeks what the federal government couldn’t do in four years.

This entire proposal is based on three pages of language in the Senate budget. But we do not know what any of the details look like. •How much will this cost the State to develop? •What will be included in these private health care plans? •How much will these insurance plans cost? •Will the federal government approve the waiver required to implement this plan? None of these questions are answered. And I don’t think it’s realistic to expect any of them to be answered in the next two weeks.

Before I conclude, I want to go back to a point I touched on last week. Last week I shared the advice of my Arkansas counterpart, Majority Leader Bruce Westerman.

Arkansas passed last year a plan very similar to the one the Senate has proposed. But after originally supporting it, Majority Leader Westerman is now opposed. And he recently said this:

“Don’t allow yourself to be rushed, because there’s always a push that you have to do something now. I kept pushing to wait and gather more information, but the governor was pushing very hard to do something now, and I think there is some buyer’s remorse because of that.”

Mr. Speaker, Virginia cannot afford buyer’s remorse. We have to take our time and work through this issue in a responsible way.

Unfortunately, that’s going to be very difficult to do in the environment that is being created by the demands of those on the other side of the aisle.

Holding the budget hostage just for the sake of ObamaCare is not just irresponsible – it’s dangerous and unacceptable. And it’s definitely not the Virginia way.

Thank you.