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Virginia Medicaid expansion hopes dimmed as lawmakers set to return

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Hopes to expand Medicaid in Virginia have dimmed with the Democrats' loss of the state Senate through a surprise resignation, a top Democratic lawmaker said on Tuesday.

Legislators are set to return from a break on Thursday to vote on a two-year budget that Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe had tied to opening Medicaid to another 400,000 people. Without a budget Virginia faces a possible government shutdown on July 1.

The resignation of Democratic Senator Phillip Puckett on Monday gave Republicans control of the state Senate and ended a deadlock with McAuliffe over expanding Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor.

“It is increasingly unlikely that Medicaid expansion will occur within the budget process,” Democrat David Toscano, the minority leader in the House of Delegates, told Reuters.

But he held out the possibility that a special session on Medicaid, which Republicans had earlier said they were willing to consider, or executive action on Medicaid by McAuliffe were still options.

The General Assembly adjourned on March 8 without a new budget as Republicans and Democrats deadlocked over McAuliffe’s proposal to include Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act in any budget deal.

Puckett's resignation denied McAuliffe the leverage he needed to resist the Republican-dominated House of Delegates, which has opposed expanding Medicaid.

Puckett said he resigned because of family issues and to permit his daughter to be confirmed for a judgeship. Ethics rules bar confirmation of judges who have relatives in the legislature.

Revenue shortfalls make it likely that the legislature will cut the budget and also tap the state’s reserve fund.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jim Loney)

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