Corbett urged to act on health law

Exchange, Medicaid both await approval

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With the election over and even Republican House Speaker John Boehner declaring "Obamacare is the law of the land," Democratic state legislators are pressing Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to move ahead with implementing key parts of the national health care overhaul.

In the last two days, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, and Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, have sent letters urging Mr. Corbett to work toward establishing a health insurance exchange and approving expansion of Pennsylvania's Medicaid program.

Mr. Corbett has held off making a final decision while seeking additional information. "At this point we are still waiting for the federal government to answer a number of questions we have concerning the implementation of Medicaid expansion," said Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the governor. "We would like to have responses from them before making an informed decision."

"We should move quickly to affirm our commitment to expanding Medicaid to all eligible residents, in order to fulfill the promise of the Affordable Care Act," Mr. Frankel wrote in a Wednesday letter to the governor. "If we choose to expand, we could guarantee that 600,000 low-income Pennsylvanians have access to preventive care. Without expansion, these uninsured residents will continue to rely on safety net hospitals, who will be required to provide care without compensation."

"Safety net hospitals" are those that provide care to large numbers of low-income or uninsured patients.

The letter from Mr. DeLuca, who is Democratic chair of the state House Insurance Committee, was co-signed by nine of his fellow Democrats on the committee. It urged Mr. Corbett "to follow the example of the 13 states that have already passed exchange legislation and begun the implementation process."

Delaying implementation could result in the loss of $34 million in federal funds to establish a health insurance exchange, Mr. DeLuca said in an accompanying press release.

The June 28 Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act blocked a provision that would have penalized states that did not expand their Medicaid eligibility criteria, a ruling effectively making Medicaid expansion optional.

Republican governors in six states -- Louisiana, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi -- quickly came out and said they opposed expanding Medicaid in their states, although at least some of those governors are now being pressured to reconsider.

Mr. Frankel said, "I respect the fact that [Mr. Corbett] did not have this kind of knee-jerk reaction that many Republican governors had, where they said 'I will not participate.'"

But the state representative still believes a decision should be made soon so lawmakers can ready enabling legislation when they reconvene in January, and the state is ready when that provision of the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014.

"I'm hoping that the governor's silence before the election was prudent and that he will now see the reality of the political landscape and see that we're going to do this," Mr. Frankel said. "I think they should commit publicly to doing it and the sooner the better."

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Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963.


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