WISE, Virginia — Gov. Terry McAuliffe went to the heart of coal country in one of the state's poorest regions Tuesday to make the case that Virginia needs to expand Medicaid eligibility to about 400,000 low-income residents.
The trip was part of a new barnstorming effort by the governor to try to press reluctant Republicans in the House of Delegates into supporting a Virginia Senate plan to accept federal Medicaid dollars and expand eligibility for the publicity financed health insurance program.
"Tell your delegates you are forfeiting our future, you are sacrificing our children's future," McAuliffe told business leaders and health officials at a round table discussion at the University of Virginia's College at Wise in southwest Virginia.
Leaders of the GOP-controlled House of Delegates are staunchly opposed to Medicaid expansion and have said the state can't bear the long-term costs of a large-scale Medicaid expansion.
House Republicans have criticized McAuliffe for supporting the Senate's plan to include Medicaid expansion in its budget, saying the move could imperil passage of the entire biennial state budget and possibly lead to a government shutdown. The two sides have shown no sign of compromise, and a protracted battle could extend well beyond the scheduled Saturday finish of the 2014 legislative session.
McAuliffe heard from area hospital officials who said their institutions desperately need the cash infusion an expanded Medicaid program would bring. And the governor met with a handful of low-income residents at the Health Wagon, a free clinic, who said they relied on charity for their health needs because they could not afford insurance.
McAuliffe said hearing real-life stories of Virginians struggling to obtain health care underscored the importance of expanding Medicaid.
"This is now life and death; this is not some partisan battle," McAuliffe said.
In addition to Tuesday's trip to Wise, McAuliffe recently visited Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg and Augusta Health in Fishersville. The governor is set to visit more hospitals across the state in coming days.
But Matthew Moran, spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell, said the trips are having no effect on the Republican House caucus.
"The governor can continue to grandstand all he wants, but he cannot justify to the people of Virginia delaying the state budget in order to expand Obamacare," Moran said.