Fontana Discusses Medicaid Expansion, and Corbett's Decision to Opt Out
"I think the Governor and his administration need to re-evaluate why 21 other states have decided that an expansion would benefit their citizens, yet Pennsylvania does not feel the same," said Robinson-area state Sen. Wayne Fontana.
Last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is up to each individual state to voluntarily decide to expand the Medicaid program as part of the decision on the federal Affordable Care Act, which will begin to cover people on Jan. 1, 2014.
Last week, Governor Corbett announced that at this time Pennsylvania will not opt into expansion.
Medicaid is the state-federal program created in the 1960s to provide health care benefits for working individuals with income levels below the federal poverty level. An expansion in Pennsylvania would raise the income level of those who qualify for Medicaid to people earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $15,000 for a single person and $31,000 for a family of four. Currently, it is estimated that over 1.3 million Pennsylvanians are uninsured. An expansion of this program will cover as many as 682,000 citizens in our state with uninsured adults being the primary beneficiaries.
As an incentive for states to opt into raising the income level of those who qualify for Medicaid, the federal government has promised to pay the full cost of the expansion for three years, with the federal share shrinking to 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter. Although there is no deadline for states to sign up to expand Medicaid, all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states are on board with the Medicaid expansion, except for West Virginia, where the governor is still considering.
Governor Corbett has expressed that the major reason for not opting into expanding this health care program for the poor is because he has major concerns with the cost of an expansion to our state. In addition, he claims that Pennsylvania officials still have many unanswered questions about raising the income levels of those who would qualify for this program. The Governor also insists that states have flexibility to shape Medicaid’s coverage plans for different populations which the federal government has made assurances for months that these options are in fact available to states.
Proponents for expansion say the plan will bring $3 billion in federal funds to the state annually to provide health insurance for at least a half million uninsured Pennsylvanians with low incomes. This influx of federal money into Pennsylvania’s economy could also result in as many as 41,000 new or sustainable jobs related to the health care industry, employees of small businesses gaining health care coverage, new tax revenue and savings on emergency treatment which would relieve some of the state’s existing health care costs.
In an unusual show of support, many prominent members of the Senate majority party have expressed interest in a possible expansion and have stated that their caucus will be having a discussion and take a position on this matter before the passage of the state budget in June. With all of the mounting pressure from both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Governor Corbett has said that he will be meeting with the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary in the coming days to discuss the issues surrounding an expansion of Medicaid.
Over the past few years since Governor Corbett has taken office, his policy has been to cut programs and spending to catastrophic levels. Every citizen has felt the pinch in one way or another. Our economy has been slow to recover and our unemployment levels remain the same as the national rate. Something needs to change. We can no longer turn our backs on those who need assistance. A Medicaid expansion would primarily benefit adult working individuals.
Going forward, I think the Governor and his administration need to re-evaluate why 21 other states have decided that an expansion would benefit their citizens, yet Pennsylvania does not feel the same. How can we sit back and allow billions of dollars of federal money to remain untouched? The Supreme Court ruling has provided states great flexibility and states can opt into a Medicaid expansion at any time, even after an initial decision has been made. With over one million uninsured individuals in Pennsylvania, I think the right decision would be for the state to reconsider and expand Medicaid after all.
In an effort to further discuss the issue, I hope you will consider joining myself and the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee by attending a hearing on Pennsylvania’s option to participate in Medicaid expansion. The event will take place on Friday, March 8 from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Wyndham University Center (formerly Holiday Inn University Center), 100 Lytton Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District