Pennsylvania residents urge Corbett to expand Medicaid


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Battling tears, Shona Eakin today urged Gov. Tom Corbett to expand Medicaid eligibility in Pennsylvania. For her, the topic is personal.

Ms. Eakin, who uses a wheelchair, said that for the past decade, an attendant has gone to her home each morning at 5 to help her get dressed for work. Ms. Eakin is able to get to her job as executive director of the Erie-based agency Voices for Independence because of that assistance.

Her attendant, however, does not have health insurance of her own, so she cannot afford preventive care. And when she does get sick, she cannot afford to take much time off, a situation that Ms. Eakin said is similar to the plight faced by many other home care workers, including hundreds connected to her organization.

"I ask you to look at the injustice in that," Ms. Eakin said today, speaking at a public hearing on Medicaid expansion hosted by Democratic members of the state Senate Appropriations Committee at the Wyndham University Center in Oakland. Others testifying in support of expansion included Ronald Voorhees, interim director of the Allegheny County Health Department, and Patricia Valentine of the county Department of Human Services.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said he would show Ms. Eakin's emotional testimony to Mr. Corbett, calling Medicaid expansion "a commonsense thing to do."

It remains unclear whether Mr. Corbett will expand Medicaid. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its ruling that President Barack Obama's health care law was constitutional, also said it was up to each state to decide whether to expand eligibility for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. The Medicaid expansion option is part of the new health care law.

Mr. Corbett has not recommended expanding the program, citing concerns about cost. In a letter sent Feb. 5 to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Mr. Corbett said Medicaid expansion would cost Pennsylvania $1 billion in new taxpayer dollars through 2015-16 and more than $4.1 billion by the end of 2020-21.

"The governor still remains concerned about expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania without reforms, and that's what he is working on right now, in terms of trying to get answers and questions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services," spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of expansion through 2016, and 90 percent of the cost after that.

Other Republican governors, including Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, have accepted the Medicaid changes, and in testimony she delivered at the hearing, Erin Ninehouser of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network urged Mr. Corbett to do the same.

"Medicaid is the difference between whether or not someone can recover financially from an illness or an accident," she said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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