The blockage of Medicaid expansion in the state budget sent to Governor Terry McAuliffe has those championing mental health issues speaking out about what they call a bad side effect.
The governor's mental health task force met Monday afternoon in Richmond. Members say the loss of federal dollars hurts not only those in crisis, but also society as a whole.
"I am told that absent that language, the House was willing to vote not to have a budget. In case you're wondering what happened,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Bill Hazel.
When the General Assembly finally passed a budget - following months of intense bickering - it not only left out Medicaid expansion, but it also added language that thwarts the governor's ability to act.
“It was a huge blow to mental health advocates,” said 39th District Senator George Barker.
Democratic lawmakers say politicians like former Governor Bob McDonnell and state Senator Creigh Deeds have triumphed in improving the system but Virginia took a step back by not accepting federal dollars.
"We wait until they get into crisis in many instances until being able to address that. It doesn't make sense for the individual, but it also doesn't make sense for us as a society and as taxpayers,” Barker said.
Advocates of Medicaid expansion say it would have saved the commonwealth more than $1 billion. Without it, the two-year budget proposal does make strides to beef up services, like adding more beds at psychiatric facilities, therapeutic assessment centers and children's care.
The governor's mental health task force is still searching for solutions, but some in the group worry without Medicaid expansion those suffering severe disorders are left in the coverage gap.
"They're not getting the treatment that they need to get and that they would be eligible for if we had that expansion such as Marketplace Virginia,” Barker said.
The task forces under the governor and the General Assembly are supposed to continue meeting over the next four years, in hopes of finding solution for the entire spectrum of care.