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Corbett proposes 'Healthy Pennsylvania'; alternative plan to expanded Medicaid

Updated: Thursday, January 9 2014, 07:31 PM CST
Reported by: Donna Kirker Morgan

HARRISBURG -- Our state started 2014 without expanding Medicaid to nearly 500,000 poor Pennsylvanians. The state passed up millions of federal tax dollars offered to states under the Affordable Care Act -- also known as ObamaCare -- but the Corbett Administration is proposing a different way to add those people to the Medicaid rolls.

However, a lot of people have testified in public hearings that they don’t like the Corbett plan for various reasons. Thursday a hearing was held at the Pennsylvania State Museum.

Under traditional Obamacare, federal tax dollars would be sent to the state to expand Medicaid for an estimated 500,000 more poor Pennsylvanians. Under the Corbett plan -- called Healthy Pennsylvania -- the federal dollars would be used to help qualified poor people to buy private insurance.

Ivey Walker of Williamsport is in the middle of this debate. She attended today’s hearing in Harrisburg. Ivey works part-time as a home health aide and she would have been one of the 500,000 Pennsylvanians who would have gotten Medicaid coverage if Pennsylvania had said “yes” to Medicaid expansion.

“I want Governor Corbett to understand I need health care,” she said.

However, the Corbett administration says Medicaid services already use 30 percent of the state’s budget, and even with extra federal help, traditional Medicaid expansion just won’t work for our state.  "Twenty billion dollars annually we will spend this year alone, and we‘ll see a $600 million deficit this year just to support existing population," Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth said.

So the state is proposing Healthy Pennsylvania. It would take the federal dollars and use them to help the poor buy private health care coverage. But the plan also includes premiums that recipients would have to pay for. That did not sit well with many people at Thursday’s hearing.

“It’s unaffordable for these populations and the feds have already said they won't pass premiums under federal poverty level,” said Antoinette Kraus, director of Pennsylvania Health Access Networks, a coalition of health care providers.

Advocates are most worried, however, that the Corbett plan would revamp the current Medicaid System in Pennsylvania which covers more than the elderly. There are 2.2 million people covered currently with the system that has programs for the elderly, disabled, pregnant women, and those dealing with mental health issues.

Kraus says, for example, the restructuring will mean limits on wheelchairs and on diabetic testing strips. She says limiting such things will mean those people will have no chance of leading fulfulling, independent lives. 

“Medicaid is an efficient program; 96 percent goes to implementing services,” she said.

Mackereth says the reforms are the only way to make the expansion survive past the point of when federal funding is reduced. She says the Affordable Care Act only provides 100 percent funding to new Medicaid enrollee for three years. After that, the funding will be at 90 percent. Mackereth says the restructuring of the state’s Medicaid system will provide the savings to fill in that 10 percent gap.

The welfare department still hasn’t officially submitted the Healthy Pennsylvania plan to the federal government but Mackereth promised that they are moving towards the goal of getting their Medicaid expansion plan up and running by 2015.

So until then, folks like Ivey wait.Corbett proposes 'Healthy Pennsylvania'; alternative plan to expanded Medicaid

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