Political Horse Trading Could Leave 400,000 Virginians Without Medicaid

Hannah Gelbort

A political scandal has erupted in Virginia over the state-level implementation of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). On Monday, State Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) resigned his seat, reducing the number of Democrats in the Virginia Senate to 19. Republicans continue to hold 20 seats, tipping the balance of power in their favor. Given that he Virginia Senate is also dominated by the GOP, the shift could spell the end for Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s push to expand Medicaid benefits under the ACA to cover an additional 400,000 Virginians. Critics allege Puckett was convinced to abandon his seat by Republicans’ offers of an appointed position for him at the state tobacco commission and for his daughter, a judge, on the bench. The Washington Post reports: After Democrats accused Puckett of selling out, and potentially dooming Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, he decided to remain with his job in banking, according to two people who were familiar with his decision. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his decision. It’s not clear whether the criticism fueled his decision, and Puckett did not confirm it in a statement he released to the public late Monday afternoon. In the statement, Puckett said that reports that he had resigned his seat to accept a paid job with the commission were “untrue.” He confirmed that one factor was helping his daughter secure a state judgeship, but without offering details, he said that additional, personal factors were at work. It remains to be seen how Puckett’s resignation will affect the fight over Medicaid and ACA in the Virginia legislature, and the 400,000 Virginians who stand to benefit if coverage were expanded.

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Hannah Gelbort is a Summer 2014 editorial intern.
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