McAuliffe threatens to force Medicaid expansion, despite public opinion poll


EXPANSION PLANS: Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants the legislature to transfer its power to him on Medicaid expansion if lawmakers don’t make some decisions soon.

By Kathryn Watson |, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA — Gov. Terry McAuliffe is trying to expand Medicaid any way he can — even though a new poll shows most Virginians would rather wait to reform the system or to not expand it all.

McAuliffe campaigned on a promise to do all he could to expand Medicaid in Virginia through the Affordable Care Act. He submitted Monday a budget amendment that would allow him to call the shots on expansion if the legislative committee assigned to consider the task fails do so before the 2014 General Assembly session ends in March.

Essentially, it’s a message to the Republicans — and Democrats — on the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, which was established last year: Expand Medicaid soon or I’ll do it for you.

“The members of the MIRC should be the ones to decide to accept 100 percent federal funding for the next 3 years so that we can get 400,000 Virginians access to quality care and create as many as 30,000 jobs,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “But every day we wait costs Virginia taxpayers $5 million dollars and leaves those 400,000 in limbo. That is why I hope the General Assembly will transfer the authority to make this important decision to the Governor in the event that the MIRC does not act by the end of this session. These families have waited long enough.”

The governor’s office did not respond to’s questions on the proposal.

Both the Virginia House and Senate have to approve any budget amendments McAuliffe proposes. Republicans, who dominate the House, are ready to stand their ground.

“The House has been very clear that we remain opposed to Medicaid expansion,” Matthew Moran, communications director for Speaker of the House and Republican Delegate Bill Howell told “The work of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission is ongoing. It would be irresponsible and contrary to Virginia’s historically conservative approach to budgeting to rush the work of the MIRC simply so the governor could keep a campaign promise.”

“The governor, basically, is going to try different ways to get across his point on Medicaid expansion and of course my job today is to get across the point that we’re not going to expand Medicaid,” House Majority Leader Delegate Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, told reporters.

But a poll released Tuesday by Roanoke College’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research shows far more Virginians would either wait on expansion until the program is more efficient or not expand it at all, rather than to expand it now. Of the 633 Virginians interviewed by phone between Jan. 13 and Jan. 17, 33 percent said it should be expanded only once reformed; 30 percent said it should be expanded now; and 26 percent said it shouldn’t be expanded at all. The poll had an error rate of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

The college surveyed Virginians — not necessarily Virginia voters — on their opinions on other major issues in the 2014 legislative session, such as mental health reforms and gun control.

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at

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