RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democratic leaders in the Virginia Senate on Tuesday once again urged Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell to call a special session to discuss how the state will address the federal health care overhaul.
States face a Dec. 14 deadline to decide whether to set up their own exchange for people to shop for private health insurance policies or allow the federal government to run them.
In a news release, Senate Democratic leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Don McEachin of Henrico County said McDonnell should call lawmakers back into session to create a state-based health insurance program.
While the governor said Virginia would default to the federal exchange option, the state could change course at a later date.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said a special session would be costly to taxpayers and there are no decisions that need to be made between now and the regular start of the session in January. He called Tuesday's move by the Senate Democrats "unfortunate theatrics."
"We are just weeks away from the start of the regular General Assembly session, during which the issue of health care exchanges will be addressed," Martin said. "More importantly, the states are still awaiting critical additional guidance and regulations from the federal government about the financing and implementation of health exchanges, and we are hopeful that we will have that in the next month."
The General Assembly passed a law last year — and McDonnell signed it — giving the governor the authority to plan for implementing a state-based health benefits exchange. McDonnell has not responded to recommendations made by his advisory council a year ago on how to create the exchange.
McDonnell and House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, blocked legislative attempts this year to create a state-based exchange.
But Saslaw said "Virginians deserve an exchange that suits their specific needs, not a one-size-fits-all solution from the federal government."
McDonnell also has said he opposes expanding the state's Medicaid program, which provides care for the needy, elderly, blind, disabled and poor families with children. The program is funded jointly by federal and state governments.
A handful of states with Republican governors have said they will not expand Medicaid, which means they relinquish an influx of federal funding that goes with it. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the government could not withhold federal funds for current Medicaid benefits in states that choose not to expand the program.
Virginia was one of the states that challenged the health care overhaul, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.