Make Pennsylvanians healthier

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Much of the discussion about Gov. Tom Corbett's "Healthy Pennsylvania" proposal has missed the mark.

I'm a doctor. I'd like to remind everybody that, after all the debate over the dollars and cents of the matter, it all comes down to this: When you get sick, you need a doctor.

People need primary care physicians -- professionals with whom they can build a rapport and who know their histories. Right now, too many of our needy rely on hospital emergency rooms as their doctor's office. An ER gives no lasting connection with their physician and drives up costs in the bargain.

Gov. Corbett has laid out some important goals in his "Healthy Pennsylvania" plan, and he's done it in a way that will work.

• Insure our children: Right now, 95 percent of Pennsylvania children have access to health care. The governor wants to make that figure 100 percent by reauthorizing the already successful Children's Health Insurance Program and eliminating the six-month waiting period. He signaled that intention with this year's budget, when he added $8.5 million more to CHIP to cover an additional 9,200 kids.

• Promote health care access: In many communities, the problem isn't funding for health care; it's the lack of doctors. The "Healthy Pennsylvania" plan would expand community-based primary health care clinics. It would increase funding to forgive student loans for young doctors willing to serve in rural and underserved communities. All the insurance in the world won't help you if you can't get to a doctor.

Another problem is that specialists aren't always available in many of our rural communities. "Healthy Pennsylvania" promotes the use of 21st-century technology, such as telemedicine, which allows general practitioners to exchange information and diagnoses with experts across our state and around our nation.

• Insure the uninsured: "Healthy Pennsylvania" would insure more than 500,000 additional low-income Pennsylvanians by allowing them to use federal health care dollars to purchase private insurance plans through the federal health insurance exchange. Private coverage means lower costs through market competition, greater choice and the personal freedom to decide which plan best fits your family -- a common-sense goal, rather than expanding government.

In some cases, we need federal approval for these reasonable and effective proposals. Right now, the costs of sustaining Pennsylvania's Medicaid program are staggering and the program has become outdated.

To save money and invest Medicaid recipients in the careful use of public dollars, Gov. Corbett's plan includes a modest premium -- as low as $5 and never more than $25 for individuals, and the same sliding scale up to $35 for families, along with a reasonable work-search requirement. The elderly, children and the disabled are exempted from both.

Government programs will never match the value and innovation of the private sector. By directing new enrollees to the federal health insurance exchange, they can use dollars allocated under the Affordable Care Act to choose a private insurance plan that meets their needs.

That makes sense. Just like you choose your doctor, you ought to be able to choose your insurance plan.

As you read this, one Pennsylvanian in six is on Medicaid, with nearly $20 billion in federal and state taxpayer dollars supporting the program each year. We can do better -- and the best way to do so is through Gov. Corbett's "Healthy Pennsylvania" plan.

We owe it to our citizens. We owe it to our patients.


Radheshyam M. Agrawal is a senior attending physician in the Division of Gastorenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Allegheny General Hospital.


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