Health care for all in state urged

Hospital lobbyist backs subsidies

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HARRISBURG -- The head of the lobbying group representing Pennsylvania hospitals reiterated his call Monday for all Pennsylvanians to have health coverage, and said Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal to provide insurance subsidies for low-income residents is an avenue to that goal.

Andy Carter, president and CEO of the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, had already said the plan to make health insurance available to more Pennsylvanians aligns with the policy agenda of hospitals.

Rather than allow more people to qualify for Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health care law, Mr. Corbett, a Republican, is asking the federal government to let Pennsylvania make changes to its Medicaid program -- such as curtailing benefits that exceed national standards and instituting a job-search requirement -- and disburse the federal Medicaid money as subsidies for low-income residents, which would let them buy insurance from private carriers.

Before the governor's announcement, the association had urged the state to participate in a direct expansion of Medicaid coverage as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act.

But Mr. Carter said Monday at a luncheon of Pennsylvania Press Club that the main goal was for more patients to have health insurance.

"Most important to hospitals is the end goal, whether it's full-blown Medicaid expansion or the model that Gov. Corbett has put in play," he said. "In either case, most observers believe that we will achieve close to universal coverage in the commonwealth."

An expansion of coverage would reduce the losses hospitals incur caring for people without insurance. And Mr. Carter said there is unmistakable evidence that individual access to health insurance improves outcomes for patients.

Since the federal government must approve Pennsylvania's proposal, Mr. Carter said his organization has asked the administration to engage in good-faith negotiations in hopes of coverage beginning by July 2014.

Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for the governor, said discussions with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are going well. She said the administration hopes to soon reach a point where it would formally apply for a waiver for the Medicaid program.

Mr. Carter said he views the Affordable Care Act as one of "many catalysts" to improve the work of health care providers. "I think the federal government, if it moves smartly in implementing its ambitions, can be a resource to all of us," he said.

In a report issued earlier this month, the association said that the share of working-age Pennsylvanians who are uninsured has reached a modern high of 15.9 percent.

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


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