400,000 more people in Virginia will have healthcare, thanks to a bipartisan group of 19 Democrats and three Republicans in the state senate.

After tense debate in the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, a bill setting a $115 billion, two-year budget was finally passed by a majority of the Republican-controlled Virginia senate that included expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

According to a photo of the roll call, all 19 Democrats voted “yea” along with three of the 21 Republicans in the chamber. Senate Commerce and Labor Committee chairman Frank Wagner, Senate Finance Committee co-chair Emmett Hanger, and Senator Ben Chafin all defected from their party and voted in favor of the measure that included Medicaid expansion into the budget bill, giving it the narrow majority it needed to pass.

The budget bill will now head to the Virginia House of Delegates, which is also under narrow Republican control. However, the bill is expected to either pass with Medicaid expansion or have Medicaid expansion included in a final conference version of the bill, as the House passed a budget with Medicaid expansion in February. According to WTOP, the budget will also include a three percent pay increase for Virginia teachers, along with other pay and benefit increases for other public employees.

Lawmakers are unlikely to outright reject the budget deal approved by the senate, as the Virginia general assembly has until June 30 to get a bill to the desk of Governor Ralph Northam (D), who was elected last November by campaigning for Medicaid expansion.

The passage of Medicaid expansion by the Virginia senate is a major milestone, as the state’s Republican-controlled legislature was responsible for blocking expansion of the program under the Affordable Care Act under the previous administration of Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who unsuccessfully pushed for expansion during his tenure.


Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.

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