Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Northam Pauses Medicaid Work Requirement, Citing New Majority

Governor Northam signs the 2018 state budget
Gov. Northam signs the 2018 state budget, which included Medicaid expansion. (Craig Carper/VPM News)

Key Republicans are accusing Gov. Ralph Northam of breaking promises after Northam said he is pausing the rollout of a work reporting requirement that was a central piece of last year’s Medicaid expansion.

In a statement on Wednesday, Northam says Democrats will likely scrap the policy when they take over the legislature in January.

The work requirement was a major reason Northam was able to convince some Republicans to cross the aisle to support Medicaid expansion for more low-income adults in 2018.

Nearly 350,000 people have signed up since the expansion, but the requirement hasn’t been rolled out yet as the state sought a key waiver from the federal government. 

“Given the changed make-up of the General Assembly and based on conversations with new leadership, it is unlikely Virginia will move forward with funding a program that could cause tens of thousands of Virginians to lose health care coverage,” Northam said.

“Other states that have tried to implement these requirements are also facing legal threats and rising costs,” he continued. “For these reasons, I’ve instructed our Medicaid Director to pause negotiations.”

Republican lawmakers were already frustrated at the slow timetable for rolling out the policy, with state officials warning it could take two years. Northam’s latest move led Republicans to accuse the governor of walking back an agreement that took months of negotiations with GOP lawmakers to pass.

“Broken promises like this are the reason so many people hate politics,” said Del. Todd Gilbert (R- Shenandoah County), who will serve as House minority leader beginning in January.

Outgoing Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who, unlike Gilbert, supported the expansion, said the election shouldn’t have changed Northam’s stance.

“It’s a sad reflection on the value of integrity in modern politics,” Cox said.

The work requirement was never popular with Democrats, who said it would add cumbersome red tape that would force people out of health insurance.

The left-leaning Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis estimated that between 26,800 and 74,000 people would lose health coverage in Virginia if the work requirements were implemented.

Scrapping the policy would eliminate cumbersome requirements that were all but certain to exclude thousands of Virginians, according to Freddy Mejia, a policy analyst at the institute.

“The work requirement programs are based in flawed and historically racist assumptions that people with low incomes are choosing not to work,” Mejia said. “In fact, most of these people are already working.”

While a number of states have sought approvals for work requirements, judges have halted those efforts in Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Kentucky, among others, while other states have backed away from the plans.


Ben Paviour covers state politics for VPM News with a focus on accountability journalism.