Virginia is moving toward dropping work requirements for Medicaid enrollees after Democrats won full control of the state Legislature for the first time in a generation.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that his administration is hitting "pause" on its request for federal approval to require some Medicaid recipients to have a job or participate in some form of approved community engagement and pay part of the premiums.
The provisions were key parts of a bipartisan compromise nearly two years ago that saw Virginia expand Medicaid to low-income, able-bodied adults after years of steadfast GOP opposition. But Northam said Democratic victories in last month's legislative elections, which gave his party total control of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation, made it unlikely that the work-requirements and other provisions would ever be implemented.
"Virginians made it clear they want more access to healthcare, not less," Northam said in a statement.
Republicans, who had previously expressed frustration with the lengthy projected timetable for implementation of the work requirements, said Northam was acting in bad faith.
"He gave his personal assurance that the long-term policy of the commonwealth would be Medicaid expansion with a work requirement. Broken promises like this are the reason so many people hate politics," said Republican Del. Todd Gilbert, the incoming House minority leader.
Medicaid is a publicly funded healthcare program whose costs are split by the federal and state governments. Expanding Medicaid to low-income, able-bodied adults was a key part of former President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul.
Virginia was one of several states that initially rejected expansion. But after Democrats made huge gains in 2017 after campaigning heavily on the issue, several Republicans agreed to back expansion if it had the work requirement provision.
So far, more than 300,000 Virginians have enrolled in Medicaid after lawmakers approved expansion.
Republicans in other states that have expanded Medicaid followed a similar course in requiring that new enrollees either be employed or actively searching for jobs.
But Northam also cited the numerous legal challenges in those states as reason not to move forward.
Indiana is the only state where Medicaid work requirements are in effect, though officials said recently they would temporarily suspend enforcement until a lawsuit is resolved.
A federal judge has blocked Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire. And a federal lawsuit challenging Michigan's plan to implement work requirements was filed last month.