WASHINGTON, December 19 – In a major victory for Vermonters, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has convinced Senate negotiators to increase Medicaid payments to Vermont by $250 million over six years in the Senate’s health reform plan. Leahy’s provision, strongly supported by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is included in an amendment of negotiated provisions that Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered to the bill Saturday, beginning the countdown to the final Senate vote on the bill next week.
At issue is the federal match rate for Medicaid beneficiaries in the states. The Senate’s reform bill would require all states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income individuals and increases Medicaid payments to cover the expansion. Vermont has already expanded its coverage using the Medicaid program. Leahy, Sanders and state officials have argued that Vermont therefore would have been penalized for the state’s early efforts. Under the Vermont-specific formula fix engineered by Leahy to the bill’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), Vermont will be in a position to net an additional $250 million between the years 2014 and 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Leahy said, “Vermont has always been a national leader in expanding access to health insurance, and that is something that any health reform plan should reward and not punish. This formula adjustment will ensure that Vermont is not disproportionately burdened by a further expansion of the Medicaid program. This is a major improvement in the bill for Vermont. Majority Leader Reid has kept his word in working with us to fix this unintended loophole.”
Sanders said, “It would have been unfair for states like Vermont, which did the right thing by providing broad coverage for more low-income people, to be penalized. I am pleased that this issue has been addressed in a way that recognizes and rewards Vermont’s forward-thinking policies instead. The Vermont delegation worked well together on this, and I appreciate Senator Leahy’s leadership.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the package by the end of next week.