New Castle News

March 5, 2013

Corbett not budging on Medicaid expansion

John Finnerty

CNHI — Gov. Tom Corbett stands alone as the only governor of a large northeastern state to suggest he will not approve an expansion of Medicaid.

Corbett is not without support though, as a small group of Republican lawmakers issued a public plea for the governor to stand firm.

Meanwhile, Democrats and advocates said there is little reason for Pennsylvania to opt out before expansion because there is nothing that would prevent the state from dropping out of the expanded Medicaid program once the federal government’s full funding elapses.

Corbett is working on setting up a meeting to discuss his concerns with Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but a Corbett spokeswoman said Monday the meeting has not taken place and has not been scheduled.

“They are working on it,” Corbett spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said.

Eight Republican governors have agreed to the Medicaid expansion — including governors in the neighboring states of Ohio and New Jersey, as well as those in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Michigan and North Dakota.

The Corbett administration has estimated that participating in the Medicaid expansion that would add 800,000 people to medical assistance would cost Pennsylvania $1 billion through 2014-15 and a total of $4.1 billion. Advocates maintain that the Medicaid expansion would pave the way for $43 billion in federal contributions, beginning with three years in which the federal government would pay 100 percent of the expansion.

“Regardless of the federal government’s claims, the presumption that they will cover 100 percent of the costs of full expansion is simply not true,” Cronkright said.

Seven Republican lawmakers released a joint statement urging the governor to stand firm against Medicaid expansion, arguing it makes no sense to embark on a costly expansion of government services that depends on federal government funding.

“I don’t trust that the federal government will keep its word,” said Rep. Fred Keller, R-85, of Union County, one of the lawmakers who co-signed the letter penned by Rep. Tim Krieger, R-57, of Westmoreland County.

“Many voices have been raised in recent days urging Governor Tom Corbett to reverse his sound decision to reject the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion. Unfortunately, some of those voices have come from Republicans lured, once again, by the promise of ‘free’ money,” Krieger wrote in the letter.

Proponents of expanding Medicaid said it will chiefly benefit the working poor. The Maternity Care Coalition developed a list of likely job titles of those who would benefit including: child care workers, cashiers, waiters and waitresses, hairdressers, housekeepers, cooks and hotel desk clerks.

Keller said he has heard little advocacy from constituents in favor of Medicaid expansion. “Most of the comments I’ve heard have been from people saying we shouldn’t be dumping more money into a broken system.”

Rep. Chris Sainato, a Democrat from Lawrence County, said Pennsylvania officials ought to view the expansion proposal as an opportunity for a free pass to provide coverage for hundreds of thousands of people, which can then be dropped without penalty.

“We have three years to see if it is working,” Sainato said. “Our decision should not be made for three years.”