Del. Ken Plum: Impasse In Richmond

Del. Ken Plum/File photoOne essential step in successful negotiations is to anticipate what the other side needs or wants and attempt to come as close as possible to that position to arrive at a compromise.

This process is followed effectively on a daily basis in businesses, families, and legislatures. While the rhetoric has been harsh from the Republican majority in the House of Delegates about not approving an expansion of Medicaid in the state, I understood their partisan and ideological stance but was confident that some middle ground, or as Governor McAuliffe calls it “common ground,” could be reached. My optimism is starting to wane.

Last week, Republican Senator John Watkins introduced a compromise plan. He chose to call it Marketplace Virginia and not to call it Medicaid expansion because the term raises such strong objections among his partisan colleagues.

His plan embodies so many basic Republican principles, that I thought it would be accepted. His proposal is a market-based solution that would use federal funds to provide basic coverage from competing private insurers to those who would qualify. Participants would be required to pay a co-pay amount based on their income, and they would need to meet minimum work requirements. The insurance would be good only as long as the premiums were paid. If the federal government reneged on its funding commitment in future years, the policies would be subject to cancellation.

Under this plan, the federal taxes paid by Virginians to support health insurance would be returned to the state.

The proposal seemed like a winner to me. I endorsed it as a reasonable solution. Within a day of its introduction, however, the House leadership rejected it without acknowledging that its provisions seemed to respond to their earlier concerns. Where does that leave us?

Virginia businesses are paying to the federal government tax dollars to support the program, but those dollars are not coming back to the state. The Commonwealth is losing $5 million a day!

More than a million Virginians continue to be without health insurance — including the 250,000 that would have been insured under Senator Watkins’ proposal. The Senate in a bipartisan way continues to press for a solution. Governor McAuliffe is a strong proponent of extending insurance benefits to more Virginians and wants a compromise. The House Republican majority refuses to budge.

This is clearly an impasse that will keep the General Assembly in session beyond the March 8 scheduled adjournment date.

In the meantime, I hope that citizens will continue to call, email, or write members of the House of Delegates to ask for their support of a compromise that will extend benefits to some of our neediest citizens. Thanks to the many people who have already contacted legislators from my earlier request. We need to keep working for a solution. About a quarter million Virginians are counting on us!

Del. Ken Plum has represented Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates since 1982. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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