Poll: Majority of Virginians Oppose Medicaid Expansion

By: AP
By: AP

April 24, 2014

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — A new poll shows that the majority of Virginians oppose a plan favored by Governor Terry McAuliffe to use federal Medicaid funds to provide health insurance to low-income residents.

A poll from Christopher Newport University's Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy poll released Thursday shows that Virginia voters oppose Medicaid expansion 53 percent to 41 percent. In February, the university found the majority of voters favored Medicaid expansion 56 to 38.

The shift in the public's view suggests that Republican lawmakers are winning the long-running public relations battle over McAuliffe and Democratic lawmakers.

"Democrats are losing the debate on expanding Medicaid in Virginia," said Professor Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy. He noted that even in Democratic-heavy Northern Virginia, voters only supported Medicaid expansion by a 2 percent margin.

Lawmakers have been deadlocked on Medicaid expansion for several months. The impasse led the General Assembly to adjourn in March without passing a $96 billion two-year budget. If no budget is passed by July 1, state agencies could run out of money.

Since then, Republicans and Democrats have been busy pointing fingers at each other over who is to blame for the standoff. Both sides have been helped or attacked by advertising paid for by outside groups, including the liberal Moveon.org and the conservative Americans for Prosperity.

McAuliffe has barnstormed the state visiting several hospitals and clinics to argue in favor of expanding Medicaid eligibility. The new governor has argued that Virginia and its rural hospitals in particular can't afford to forgo billions of federal dollars by not expanding.

During a radio call-in show Thursday, the governor shrugged off the poll's findings and reiterated the financial benefits of expansion.

Medicaid expansion is a key, but optional part of the Affordable Care Act. The federal government has promised to cover the bulk of the program's costs.

McAuliffe also blamed Republicans for refusing to negotiate a budget deal.

"Compromise is not a bad word," McAuliffe said.

Most Republican lawmakers oppose expanding Medicaid eligibility, citing unease over the program's potential long-term costs. They have pressed McAuliffe to allow a budget to pass without including Medicaid expansion and revisiting the issue in a special session.

Matthew Moran, a spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell, said the poll shows that "Virginia voters oppose Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and they want to see a compromise that avoids a government shutdown."

The CNU poll was based on interviews with 806 registered voters and has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

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