Ralph Northam Draws Progressive Ire Over Medicaid Comments

Virginia's Democratic governor-elect said he wants to expand Medicaid, but he's concerned about its cost.

WASHINGTON ― Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam drew the ire of progressives on Sunday, who accused him of walking back ― before even taking office ― his promise to expand Medicaid for more low-income people.

In an interview published Saturday by The Washington Post, Northam said he would focus on governing in a bipartisan way and would not try to engineer a Democratic advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates, where Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority, by poaching GOP lawmakers for plum Cabinet positions. Democrats erased what had been a much greater GOP majority in the chamber as part of a rout by the party in state elections across the country last month, which many observers saw as a referendum on President Donald Trump and his agenda.

Northam, a moderate Democrat who twice voted for George W. Bush in presidential elections, also told the Post he is concerned about the fiscal impact of Medicaid in his state:

Northam said he has no plans to try to force Republicans to accept a broad expansion of Medicaid. Instead, he has begun talks with lawmakers in both parties about overhauling the state’s Medicaid system to expand access to health care while better defining eligibility to control costs.

“So I look forward to . . . seeing how we can provide better service and at the same time cut costs” through “managed-care Medicaid,” he said in the interview.

Northam’s comments drew an angry response from progressives on Twitter, including the man he defeated in his state’s gubernatorial Democratic primary, Tom Perriello.

Former Hillary Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon was among those who weighed in, calling Northam’s comments a “self-own:”

It’s possible that Northam was describing a version of Medicaid expansion that was passed in Republican-controlled states such as Arkansas, Indiana, or Nevada. Democrats, however, will likely argue that his decisive victory over Republican Ed Gillespie ― a margin on nine percentage points ― does not justify him moving to the center so quickly.

Northam addressed criticism over his comments on Twitter: