Dear Friend —

        Ok, let’s start by getting a few things straight.

    First, just because Obama is no longer president doesn’t turn Obamacare into Trumpcare.

    Second, there’s nothing conservative about embracing the largest expansion of government in Virginia history.

      Third, we’ve had seven long years to see whether Obamacare would fix our ailing healthcare system. It hasn’t. The distant mantra of “Hope and Change” won’t now result in the triumph of hope over experience.

      As we are three weeks out from the end of Session, our focus over the weekend shifted away for individual bills to the budget for the Commonwealth.

      On Sunday night, the Senate Finance Committee, on which I serve, passed our budget proposal for the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget. While the biggest topic in the media has been healthcare, this budget is a commitment to those issues that are most important to Virginians. This includes funding for mental health services, K-12 education and preschool, higher education, workforce and economic development, transportation infrastructure, and more.

      As a conservative, I am proud to have voted for the Senate Budget. It does not raise taxes and it does not expand our broken Medicaid program. It reflects our shared conservative principles … limited government, economic freedom, small business friendly policies, and lower taxes. 

      Healthcare has dominated the media coverage of the 2018 session. I believe that all of us, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, agree that our healthcare system is broken. Where we disagree is on how to fix it.

      We all have the common goal of increasing access to quality affordable healthcare. Governor Northam - like Governor McAuliffe for 4 years before him - has focused his efforts on adopting Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion.

      Make no mistake, a single-payer, government-run healthcare system has long been the ultimate goal of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and the rest of the liberal establishment. Expanding Medicaid to cover able-bodied citizens who do not meet the economic eligibility standards is yet another step in that direction.

      Medicaid was designed to be a healthcare safety net for impoverished children and mothers, the disabled, and some who needed long-term care. Obamacare sought to extend Medicaid to able-bodied adults as a substitute for insurance.

      I do not believe a single-payer, government-run healthcare system works, nor is it the direction in which we as a Commonwealth and nation, need to go. I’ll spare you the economic argument. The practical, fiscal realities should suffice for now.

      The President and Congress have been working hard to repeal Obamacare. They have gotten rid of the individual mandate and are now looking to repeal federal funding for Medicaid expansion through the budget. They are also trying to make it easier for states to provide relief from Obamacare’s staggering premiums and exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses.

      It would be irresponsible – and perhaps even reckless – to adopt Medicaid expansion in the midst of the uncertainty of federal funding and the increased ability to find more state solutions.

      Additionally, Medicaid expansion does not address one of the biggest problems that my constituents and Virginians across the Commonwealth are facing. The broken promise of Obamacare has delivered working families premiums that have skyrocketed, enormous deductibles, and annual double digit increases in the cost of healthcare services. Other states that have accepted Medicaid expansion have had sticker shock and have found that it drastically increased prices for insurance and resulted in significantly more enrollees than projected. Medicaid expansion will not address these underlying problems. It’s putting a band-aid on an open wound.

      Obamacare has broken our healthcare system and is pricing more Virginians out of the health insurance marketplace every day. Expanding a broken Medicaid system is not the solution to the problem. It will not drive down healthcare costs. In fact, because its reimbursement rates are lower, the more people we enroll in Medicaid means that healthcare costs will go up even faster for those with commercial insurance. It will price more and more Virginians out of the health insurance marketplace, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

      Finally, a report last year released by the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reveals a troubling cause and effect that is happening in our system. The number of criminal drug fraud cases related to Medicaid was close to 60 percent higher in the four years following Medicaid expansion than in the four-year period preceding it. Further, 80 percent of these cases were in states that expanded Medicaid and deaths from drug overdoses are increasing almost twice as fast in expansion states then in non-expansion states.

      While the House of Delegates included Medicaid expansion, a hospital tax and approximately $800 million dollars more in government spending in their version of the budget, the Senate Republicans are taking a very different approach to expanding access to quality, affordable healthcare for all Virginians.  Instead of adding billions of state and federal tax dollars to put more Virginians into a broken program, we are instituting long overdue reforms.

      We are also advancing a healthcare package of our own. It is a package that is actually focused on solving the problem, not treating the symptoms. It focuses on lowering the cost of coverage and care.   

      SB 844 (Dunnavant) would allow more Virginians to opt for less expensive “short term” coverage plans.  It would also place requirements on health insurers to offer plans in more areas of Virginia.  The bill will help to reduce costs and expand options for consumers.

   SB 935 (Dunnavant) would expand the availability of group insurance plans, allowing more Virginians to participate in insurance “pools.”

      SB 964 (Sturtevant) would allow more Virginians to qualify for catastrophic health coverage plans, which provide essential health benefits.  These plans are a lot less expensive than the plans available on the exchanges, but are currently available only to those under the age of 30.  This legislation removes that age limit, making the plans more widely available – and bringing affordable coverage to more Virginians.

    SB 915 (Dunnavant) sets priorities for healthcare funding, including waivers for Intellectual and Developmentally Disabled Virginians.  There is a current backlog for these waivers of more than 3,000.  This bill also prioritizes funding to increased mental health and substance abuse treatment.  Effectively, this bill is a roadmap to how Virginia should allocate and prioritize future healthcare expenditures.

      Our package has won widespread, bipartisan support.  The four bills noted here were approved without a single dissenting vote in the Senate, a rare feat on an issue that has become very contentious.

      This issue of affordable, quality healthcare is one of utmost importance.  Passing a budget that is fiscally responsible and prioritizes the challenges we are facing here in the Commonwealth is essential. The budget that the Senate has proposed is both fiscally responsible and supportive of solutions to these challenges.

      If you have questions about the budget or have issues that are important to you, I encourage you to reach out to me or my office at If you are here in Richmond during Session, please stop by our office in the Pocahontas building on the fifth floor, room 502 - East.    

           Best regards,

         Mark Obenshain


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