Corbett still declines to expand Medicaid, but will talk to Sebelius

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HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett says he and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have agreed to schedule a meeting to discuss questions about expanding Medicaid eligibility in Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on President Barack Obama's health care law allows states to decide if they will relax the income eligibility for Medicaid, the state-operated health care program for the poor. Mr. Corbett so far has declined to recommend expanding the program, saying it would be too costly.

If Pennsylvania chooses to expand Medicaid under the law, an additional 643,000 adults would qualify for the benefit, according to the Department of Public Welfare.

In recent days, the Republican governors of New Jersey and Florida have announced they would accept federal money to expand the program. Under the health care law, the federal government would pay the full cost of expansion for three years and then 90 percent of the cost.

The National Governors Association met over the weekend in Washington, and Mr. Corbett said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie notified him of plans to announce an expansion of Medicaid eligibility there.

Mr. Corbett said he and Ms. Sebelius spoke briefly during his trip to Washington about planning a future meeting on Medicaid expansion.

"We've agreed to try and find a date when she and I can meet," he said. "Hopefully I will by that time have answers to our questions. We have a lot of questions to ask."

But Mr. Corbett said today that the decisions by Mr. Christie and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have done little to inform his own thinking on the matter.

"It really hasn't," he said. "Each state has to look at it as to what it means and what they already provide."

New Jersey offers Medicaid to people at higher income levels than qualify in Pennsylvania, he said, so Mr. Christie's decision "wasn't adding that many more people."

He noted that Pennsylvania already offers health coverage to youth through the Children's Health Insurance Program, which bases premiums on household income.

Mr. Corbett said he is awaiting more information from federal officials, and said he remains concerned that future funding would match that promised by the law.

But he did not rule out opting to expand coverage.

"Remember, I said I can't recommend it at this time because I don't have the information, and we have to look at everything," he said. "When we get the information we can make a better-informed decision."

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141


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