There are two things standing in the way of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's plan to possibly expand Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians without the legislature's permission: he's not completely sure it's legal, and Republicans will hate him even if it is. At the very least, he's looking at a lawsuit.
The Washington Post's Laura Vozzella reports Friday that McAuliffe's brand new administration — he's barely passed the 100 day mark — is looking into ways to expand Medicaid in the state administratively, after receiving fierce pushback from Republicans in the state legislature. This comes just one day after he told WTOP that he wants to expand through legislation. “Everybody says that," McAuliffe said when asked about taking executive action. "I’d like them to tell me and all my lawyers exactly how we do that.”
Unlike other governors who found legislative loopholes to approve the expansion, McAuliffe's legal authority in the matter has been described as a "gray area." What's more certain is the politically toxic environment he'd find himself in after strong arming the expansion through. "If a governor felt that strongly about it and just proposed to do it, I suppose the only way to stop him would be a lawsuit," state Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., a Republican who supports the expansion, told the Post. "But it would be quick in coming.”
McAuliffe and the legislature have been debating over a plan to expand Medicaid, and neither side will pass the state's two-year budget unless they have their way. In March the governor proposed a two-year pilot program that could have been shutdown, according to Reuters. The plan would have used federal funds to buy private insurance, similar to Arkansas's private option. The state's Republican-led House Appropriations Committee rejected the deal, arguing that the federal government can't afford to pay the Medicaid bill it's promising, and that the state should deal with the current costs in the program. Also, it's not popular to take away insurance once it's been given.