May 31 (UPI) -- After years of resistance and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of Virginia is ready to begin a process to expand its Medicaid program to cover an additional 400,000 people.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he will sign a two-year budget passed by lawmakers late Wednesday that will start a two-phase process to acquire federal funds to pay for the expansion.
"It will expand health care for up to 400,000 people who need it," Northam said. "It will invest in schools, workforce training, public safety, and an economy that works better for every Virginian, no matter who they are or where they live.
"The loudest voices in this long-standing conversation on Medicaid expansion have been those of Virginians. We have heard you. This is a victory for all Virginians."
The expansion follows years of opposition from conservative Republican lawmakers and a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that said states can expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act.
Four Republicans joined 19 Democrats in the Virginia Senate to pass the bill. If the state is granted federal funding, the expanded Medicaid will take effect Jan. 1.
Virginia Republican Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr. slammed the vote and activists who had pushed for its passage.
"In the years I have been in the Senate, I have never been treated more disrespectfully by some of these advocacy groups," he said. "Lying down in front of my office . . . with made-up tombstones, asking people to blow their horns when they go past my law office.
"The verbal abuse I took yesterday ... was unbelievable."
Democrats, including 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, championed the legislation.
"Virginia just became the 33rd state to pass Medicaid expansion," she tweeted. "400,000 lives will be improved by giving people access to health insurance. Bold ideas matter. Democratic values matter. Elections matter."
The state's proposed budget also invests in economic priorities such as education and workforce training and increases the state's cash reserves.