As the fight to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act rages in the nation’s capital, the health care debate keeps coming up time and again in Virginia’s gubernatorial race — state Democrats are making sure of it.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor, dropped by the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute in Roanoke on Friday to meet with school officials and discuss the effects that Republican health care replacement plans could have on the commonwealth.
Northam’s main concern centers on estimates that Virginia’s Medicaid program could lose $1.4 billion in federal funding over seven years under the U.S. Senate health care replacement bill. Northam opposes Republican Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Cliff Hyra in the governor’s race.
While Senate Republicans have been working this week to revise their replacement bill — one that is more likely to pass with only Republican support — the legislation still includes deep cuts to Medicaid.
Medicaid helps elderly people, pregnant women, low-income families, some children and people with disabilities.
Local school leaders and parents of special education students have expressed numerous concerns about the future of Medicaid reimbursements considering that the Senate bill would cut Medicaid enrollment by 16 percent by 2026, according to a nonpartisan analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said the debate hits close to home for many of his patients. At a news conference, Northam said he could list one patient after another who rely on Medicaid funding to help treat their complicated health problems.
“For them in Washington to talk about having these significant cuts in Medicaid will significantly affect Virginians across the commonwealth,” he said.
At the Roanoke stopover, Northam didn’t mention his rival Gillespie — a former Republican National Committee chairman — or Gillespie’s stance, or lack thereof, on the overhaul bills.
Gillespie, who opposes the Affordable Care Act, has not taken a position on the health care replacement plans but has argued that Virginia should not be punished under new health legislation for being “fiscally responsible” and not expanding Medicaid. He also advocates protections for Virginians with pre-existing conditions.
Ultimately, Gillespie aims for repeal of the Affordable Care Act as a means to increase competition among insurers, which in turn, could lower the costs of patient premiums and deductibles, said Gillespie spokesman David Abrams.
“In his decade in office, Lieutenant Governor Northam has done nothing to make health care more accessible or more affordable for Virginians,” Abrams said in a statement. “He wants to keep Obamacare even though it has driven insurers out of Virginia, raised out-of-pocket costs for patients, denied us our choice of doctors, and killed full-time jobs.”
The Senate may vote on health care overhaul as soon as next week.