Pa. Medicaid expansion is a mixed blessing
Forgive us if we’re not jumping for joy at the news that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week granted Gov. Tom Corbett a Medicaid waiver, bringing him a step closer to the implementation of his “Healthy PA” program.
His supporters in the business and physician community claim that when and if it is implemented next year, it will eventually give as many as 600,000 lowincome Pennsylvanians access to affordable health care under the new Obamacare law.
The waiver comes more than seven months after Corbett rejected an estimated $3.3 billion in federal Medicaid expansion funds that would have allowed those same working Pennsylvanians to have had affordable health care coverage all of this time.
The Medicaid expansion funds have been made available to all states to cover working Americans who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medical Assistance but not enough to buy into the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace which was designed to provide competitively-priced health plans for uninsured or underinsured Americans.
Corbett’s main concern was that the promised federal money would eventually disappear just like the “stimulus” money did a few years ago, leaving Pennsylvania taxpayers stuck with the enormous cost of paying for the Medicaid expansion.
Corbett’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion funds in January has caused some of the 318,000 Pennsylvania residents currently enrolled in Obamacare to fall into the health care gap when the governor allowed Pennsylvania’s relatively lowcost adultBasic insurance program to expire. His solution was to direct those people to a Blue Cross program with premiums as much as 400 percent higher and fewer services than adultBasic. More than 1,700 Delaware County residents relied on adultBasic and more than 17,400 Delaware County residents were on the waiting list for the lowincome insurance.
Corbett’s version of Medicaid coverage, dubbed Healthy PA, will still not be affordable to many low-income working families and will limit access to critical health services, according to Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. Because it differs from the current Medicaid system and the Health Insurance Marketplace, Healthy PA will also establish additional bureaucratic red tape.
Before Corbett was granted a waiver to move forward with his version of Medicaid coverage, officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did eliminate such contradictory conditions of his proposal as premiums on the very poor, work search requirements and extreme reduction in benefits. Senior citizens and existing Medicaid enrollees such as pregnant women and disabled individuals could still lose benefits under Corbett’s proposal, the fine points of which still must be hammered out with federal officials.
Corbett insists that his version of Medicaid coverage will save taxpayers more than $4 billion over the next eight years. However, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that expanding Medicaid would save Pennsylvania $878 million in uncompensated care costs alone between 2013 and 2022 and result in $43 billion in federal money coming into Pennsylvania over a 10-year period.
Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry members have applauded Corbett’s Healthy PA plan because, they say in a press release, it is “vital in controlling state spending and fighting new taxes on employers.”
We daresay those members also support Corbett’s refusal to levy an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale drillers that could provide billions of dollars to help control state spending, as is done in every other oil-producing state. Instead, in Pennsylvania, it is being done at the expense of citizens’ health.