By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – Democratic leaders in the General Assembly say Gov. Tom Corbett has delayed long enough on a decision about expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania.
And if the governor won’t make a decision, they are ready to force his hand.
“If Gov. Corbett is unwilling to do the right thing, my colleagues in the Senate must send a clear message that this is unacceptable. It’s time for a vote on Medicaid expansion,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, on Tuesday.
Hughes has filed a resolution to force the state Senate to vote on Medicaid expansion. If a majority of senators support the resolution, a proposal to force the state to accept the expansion would be busted out of committee and brought immediately to the floor for a full vote.
Whether he will win support for it is questionable – Republicans hold a 27-23 edge in the state Senate, but some members of the GOP may support the proposal.
Some top Republicans seem to be growing weary of the governor’s maybe-maybe not approach to the issue. Last week,Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, said the “practical deadline” for a decision on the Medicaid expansion has arrived.
Christine Cronkright, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Wednesday that no decision has been made and there is no timetable for one.
Corbett’s main concern, according to Cronkright, is that children currently enrolled in Pennsylvania’s CHIP program, which provides health coverage for children in poor families, would be forced into Medicaid as a result of the expansion.
“Moving these children into Medicaid will disrupt their continuing care and result in material changes in their choice of health care provider,” Cronkwright wrote in an email. “We believe these children should remain in CHIP to avoid unnecessary disruptions and costs.”
But Democrats in the state House support Hughes’ effort and turned up the pressure on Corbett Wednesday.
State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, said not accepting the Medicaid expansion would cost hospitals and other health care providers because federal subsidies for those who take a high percentage of Medicaid patients is set to phase out after the expansion begins next year.
“Not implementing the affordable care act is not just businesses as usual,” he said. “It doesn’t make economic sense and it certainly doesn’t make ethical sense.”
Some speculate that Corbett is holding out on Medicaid to use the issue as a bargaining chip in upcoming budgetary discussions – perhaps to leverage Democratic support for his top goals, like privatizing the state liquor stores or overhauling the state pension systems.
Frankel said Wednesday he was not interested in making such a deal, particularly if it meant Democrats would have to support “bad ideas” like privatization or pension reforms.
“I think Medicaid should stand on its own,” he said.
Whichever way the state goes, the decision will play a big part in state budget – not only this year but for years to come.
An analysis by the state Independent Fiscal Office, a number-crunching agency that plays a role similar to the federalCongressional Budget Office, concluded that the state would see $180 million in savings during the 12-13 fiscal year by expanding Medicaid.
Advocates for the expansion say it will provide insurance to some 600,000 Pennsylvanians and will boost the state’s economy by bringing in millions from the federal government. They also point to a potential reduction in uncompensated care – the health services provided by hospitals to those who do not have insurance and cannot pay.
But opponents point out that most of the savings from Medicaid expansion are simply the result of moving patients from state-level programs to the federally-funded Medicaid, which is still an increasing burden for taxpayers, no matter how you slice it.
The Medicaid expansion is part of the federal Affordable Care Act, but the Supreme Court ruled last year that states must opt-in to that part of the federal health reform law. States across the country are divided over the expansion.
Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.