Former Del. Joe Morrissey is raising Virginia’s refusal to expand Medicaid as a key issue in his bid to unseat state Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg.
At the announcement of his candidacy last month, Morrissey distributed a flier that accused Dance of apostasy in representing her heavily Democratic district. At the top of Morrissey's complaint list was this: "Rosalyn Dance voted against President Obama’s Medicaid expansion."
We wondered whether Morrissey was right.
When he made the claim, Morrissey was planning to oppose Dance in a June 9 primary. But the district’s Democratic committee blocked him from the primary ballot, ruling that he had not gathered enough valid signatures on petitions to qualify. Morrissey, who lost a legal bid to get on the ballot, now plans to run as an independent.
Dance still faces competition in the primary from state Del. Joseph Preston, D-Petersburg. She won the Senate seat in a November special election after serving nine years a state delegate.
Medicaid expansion has cleaved a deep partisan rift into Virginia in recent years. Under Obamacare, the state could opt to expand eligibility for its program to about 400,000 additional low-income and disabled citizens. Uncle Sam would pay all of the expansion costs through 2016 and phase down to 90 percent after that.
Democrats have strongly backed expansion and Republicans have vehemently resisted, saying Medicaid is already inefficient and predicting that the debt-burdened federal government will renege on its promised payments. The GOP has prevailed because it has controlled either both legislative chambers in recent years or the House of Delegates and the governorship.
Morrissey, in his campaign flier, sought to back up his claim that Dance opposed Medicaid expansion by citing votes she cast in favor of entire state budget bills in 2013, 2014 and this year that did not include the enlargement. Let’s look at Dance’s votes in each of those years.
Morrissey points to Dance’s vote on Feb. 7, 2013, backing a House budget bill that that made any expansion contingent on first reforming the state Medicaid program to weed out inefficiency. Twenty-two House Democrats voted against the proposed budget; Dance was among nine who supported it.
Passing a budget is a complicated process, however. The bill -- hundreds of pages long and containing funding for all state programs -- takes different shapes and requires a number of votes as it moves through the House and Senate. When the final version of the measure passed the House all Democrats, Morrissey included, voted for it even though it didn’t expand Medicaid.
Ed Reed, a spokesman for Dance’s campaign, emailed us a statement that said she voted for the 2013 budget thinking, as many Democrats did, that it put the state on a path to Medicaid expansion, because it included a provision that said expansion could take effect after a state panel signed off on reforms.
There was a long battle over Medicaid expansion last year, and there’s a lot that Morrissey is leaving out. The bottom line is that in the regular session Dance voted for an initial version of the 2014-2016 budget that did not include Medicaid expansion. But she did so only after backing a failed amendment that called for the state to enact Marketplace Virginia, an alternative to traditional Medicaid expansion where low income residents would still get coverage through a private insurance network.
But most importantly, Dance sponsored a McAuliffe budget alternative that called for expanding Medicaid under a two-year pilot program. She told the House in a March 25, 2014, floor speech that under the measure "400,000 Virginians could benefit from Medicaid expansion. By taking no action at all, we are doing a huge disservice to our citizens, some of the most vulnerable." Dance’s bill was defeated and she voted against the final version of the budget, which did not include Medicaid expansion.
Dance also backed an unsuccessful bill by Del. Tom Rust, R-Fairfax, that would have provided another alternative to traditional Medicaid expansion that would use federal funds from Obamacare to extend coverage to the uninsured.
Morrissey points to Dance’s Feb. 26 vote for an updated 2014-2016 budget without Medicaid expansion. It’s true Dance backed a budget without Medicaid expansion. But before that final vote, Dance opposed a successful Republican amendment that blocked Medicaid expansion from the budget.
The day Morrissey made his charge, Dance’s campaign fired an email to reporters saying she wanted the spending plan to expand Medicaid. Even though that didn’t happen, she said she still voted for the budget because contained "well-deserved and needed pay raises for teachers and other state workers."
"Budgets are overall documents that fund the government and ensure that other priorities are funded," Dance’s statement said. "Voting against a budget simply because it leaves out one priority (however significant that priority may be) also puts at risk all of those other priorities."
Morrissey says Dance "voted against President Obama’s Medicaid expansion."
Dance, as Morrissey points out, has voted for state budgets that didn’t expand Medicaid. But that doesn’t mean she was voting against the Medicaid growth specifically. Budgets are huge documents that fund more than $44 billion in state programs a year and go through many votes.
Sometimes Dance shunned protest votes against the budgets that did not expand Medicaid because, she says, she supported many other priorities in the spending plan. In 2014, however, she joined all fellow Democrats in voting against the a final budget.
It’s important to note that Dance always voted in favor of expanding Medicaid when faced with specific floor votes on the issue.
So Morrissey’s statement is highly misleading and we rate it Mostly False.