Highlight on Virginia: Politicians Explore Expanded Options for Uninsured

The state of Virginia has politicians exploring health insurance options that would allow more Virginians access to health insurance, but you won’t find them calling it “Medicaid expansion.”

Proposed by state Senator John Watkins (R-Powhatan), Senate Bill 45 was originally drafted to create a state-based Exchange to replace the federal Marketplace. Watkins’ version would create a State Corporation Commission that would provide private insurance to those eligible to shop on the federal Exchange. His plan would create the Virginia Health Benefit Exchange (VHBE), which would be established and operated by a new division within the State Corporation Commission. It would facilitate the purchase of qualified health and dental plans to both individuals and employers. The Exchange would be funded by assessments on health insurers offering plans in the Exchange, and plans would not be required to cover any state-mandated health benefit not required by federal law.

Watkins told the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee that his plan was “intended to be a private marketplace” but was not entirely clear if his plan would replace the federal Marketplace for the state.

In its place, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved a substitute bill that would create Marketplace Virginia, also established and operated by the State Corporation Commission and which would also facilitate the sale and purchase of qualified health and dental plans by July 1, 2016. Some or all of the estimated $40 million in implementation would be funded with federal Exchange Establishment Grants from CMS. The bill, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, would also be funded by special fund revenues generated by assessment fees on health carriers, federal funds or grants from nongovernmental organizations and funds from the General Assembly.

The Washington Post quoted Watkins as saying “We’re not going to expand (Medicaid) . . . But we’re going to cover the population that it would be responsible for . . .  It’s a pro-business approach to covering the uninsured.”