By Ben Burstein
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Senate Republicans and Gov. Ralph Northam are at odds over whether four bills passed this legislative session would help provide more affordable health care options to Virginians. The governor said Friday that he vetoed the bills because Virginians would be underinsured and Affordable Care Act protections would be undermined.
Republicans believe the vetoes will reduce the availability of health care options, based on income and need.
“Gov. Northam continues to prevent Virginians from even being allowed the option of choosing a health care plan that better meets their needs and their budgets,” said Sen. Stephen D. Newman, R-Bedford.
HB 2260 and SB 1027 would allow Virginia companies to circumvent federal law and offer catastrophic plans to all individuals. Under the ACA, catastrophic plans are only available to those under the age of 30, or who qualify for an exception due to income. A catastrophic health care plan generally comes with a low monthly premium, but a higher out-of-pocket deductible.
Northam said individuals might put off medical care because of the high costs before insurance coverage begins. He added that individuals with minimal health care needs “are more likely to purchase these threadbare plans, leaving individuals with more complex medical conditions in traditional marketplace plans.”
The governor said the bills would “likely contribute to an increase in Virginia marketplace premiums across the board.”
Republicans argued that the governor is restricting access to plans that should be available to everyone.
“Gov. Northam is insisting Virginians endure all of the worst aspects of Obamacare without giving them any of the less-costly options the law allows,” said Sen. Bryce E. Reeves, R-Spotsylvania.
Northam also vetoed SB 1240 and SB 1674, which would allow insurance carriers to provide short-term health care options. Short-term plans are only good for up to 12 months and, with renewals or extensions, cannot exceed 36 months. SB 1674 builds on the short-term plans by adding a guaranteed option that gives the policyholder the option to renew without having to reapply.
The governor rejected the bills on the basis that they would not be a beneficial option for everyone.
“Short-term, limited-duration plans are allowed to discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions, impose lifetime and annual caps, and are not required to provide essential health benefits,” Northam said in his veto response. “A typical short-term policy does not cover maternity care, prescription drugs, or mental health care.”
Republicans believe the bills would have helped those who might not be able to afford insurance to choose a plan that aligns with their budget.
“Virginians deserve health care coverage options they can afford,” said Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant Jr., R-Richmond, who sponsored SB 1027.
Northam countered in his veto explanation that Virginia lawmakers need to look to state-level solutions to improve health care affordability across markets. He cited the recent Medicaid expansion for individuals with income below the poverty line as an example of legislation that helps provide Virginians with affordable and comprehensive health care coverage.
The General Assembly will convene on April 3 for a one-day session to consider the governor’s vetoes. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.