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Voted against budget proposal

The most important thing we do in the General Assembly is pass a budget. Last week the House of Delegates passed a budget proposal which will now go to conference to be amended with the Senate’s version.

I wanted to share with you personally why I voted against this budget. The House budget includes a plan to expand Medicaid, albeit with some conservative reform elements. I respect my colleagues who are supporting this plan, there are good conservatives on both sides of this plan, but I respectfully disagree.

I voted against the plan because our current Medicaid system still needs reform, because it is hard to trust the federal government when they promise “free” federal money and because of the significant deficits facing other states. Medicaid expansion spends more on able-bodied adults instead of the most vulnerable and the elderly. This crowds an already flooded, inefficient program with able-bodied Virginians, thus removing access to quality health care from those who need it most.

Virginia’s current Medicaid program is growing by more than $600 million in the current biennial budget. This is an unsustainable growth rate. We cannot afford our current program, let alone the cost of expansion. The experience of other states shows that it will damage our budget. In states that have expanded, enrollment and per enrollee spending are nearly 50 percent higher than predicted. Medicaid was created more than four decades ago as a safety net program for elderly and disabled individuals with incomes well below the poverty line. Since then, this government welfare program has expanded rapidly, consuming larger and larger portions of Virginia’s budget.

I also believe it is a severe mischaracterization to say it is a cure-all for our health care challenges. Medicaid expansion isn’t going to address access to care for low-income Virginians, rising premiums for middle class families or the skyrocketing costs that businesses are facing to sponsor employer plans.

As we saw with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), “free” and “guaranteed” money from Washington is not always free nor guaranteed. Even a highly popular program like CHIP can lose its funding.

While I applaud the work of our Appropriations Committee on areas such as teacher pay raises and prudent investments in the reserve fund, I cannot support the proposal to expand Medicaid. While it did pass out of the House, I hope when the budget arrives in conference, changes are made so that I can support the budget for final passage.

I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with so many of you who have stopped by my Capitol office over the past week. We had Rhonda Holder, from the Lunenburg Medical Center/ Southern Dominion Health Systems, Inc., visit us; Sheriff Rick Walker and W.R. Edwards, with the Amelia County Sheriff’s Office, visited; as did Deputy Dennis Ownby, Ryan Bates, James Lampkin and Jeff Minter, from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. We also had many groups with home/personal care come visit: Angela Wright, from South Hill, with AmeriCare Plus; Sean Archer, with CareMed, Inc.; Kelly Dalton Gunn, from Blackstone, and Debbie Smith, from Victoria, with Home Recovery Home Aid. We also had Rob Farrell and Ed Simmer, with the Virginia Department of Forestry, drop by to see us.

Del. Tommy Wright can be reached via email at DelTWright@ house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.