Tom Corbett / Here's to our health

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This week I traveled the commonwealth to talk about "Healthy Pennsylvania," my plan to make sure every Pennsylvanian has access to quality, affordable health care.

From the Riverview Health Clinic in Harrisburg to the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrenceville, I shared a commonsense plan that provides health care choices, reforms a broken Medicaid system and expands the private health care market, while reducing government bureaucracy and helping Pennsylvanians get healthy and find jobs.

The goals of "Healthy Pennsylvania" are vital:

• Make sure every child in the state has medical coverage.

• Be certain every citizen has access to a family doctor or health care provider.

• Use our state's world-class technology to make certain that, no matter where they live, every Pennsylvanian has access to a specialist when they need one.

• In short, make sure that every Pennsylvanian has access to direct medical care.

This is a Pennsylvania solution to the unique needs of a large and diverse state. It's not enough to design a system. It has to be a system that works -- right here and right now.

We will work with the Legislature to reauthorize the state's Children's Health Insurance Program by the end of 2013 and eliminate the six-month waiting period so kids don't lose access to their doctors.

At the same time, I plan to expand the use of community-based primary care clinics around the state and increase funding for loan forgiveness programs to attract doctors and other health care professionals to rural and underserved areas of Pennsylvania.

We will continue to utilize and grow technology so that specialists can treat patients in every corner of Pennsylvania through tele-medicine. We will extend the reach of our long-term care services and supports for our older Pennsylvanians and people living with disabilities. And we will work with our communities to focus on overall public health and wellness and ensure safe and appropriate access to prescription medication.

One of the key pieces to the "Healthy Pennsylvania" program is finding a way to best use federal dollars to insure more than a half-million of our citizens who lack health coverage.

The answer is two-fold: use the current Medicaid program more efficiently and expand coverage through the private sector. Currently, one in six Pennsylvanians -- more than 2 million people --are on Medicaid, and it costs Pennsylvania taxpayers $19 billion annually.

This week I sent a proposal to the Obama administration to reform the Medicaid system in a way that would make certain it will be there for our neediest in years to come. We need to align Medicaid benefits with plans that now cover working, insured Pennsylvanians. The current system offers a confusing array of benefit packages that don't match the needs of the patients who rely on them. As a result, Pennsylvania pays 34 percent more per recipient than the national average.

We need to include cost-sharing and individual responsibility. We need to eliminate confusing co-payments and implement a modest monthly premium, giving people greater responsibility for their own health care. And, we must help able-bodied Pennsylvanians find a job through job training and work search requirements.

This plan requires able-bodied, unemployed Medicaid recipients to use Pennsylvania's Job Gateway program, which connects people looking for work with jobs and job-training programs. It enables them to engage in a meaningful work search similar to the requirements for those receiving unemployment compensation.

For newly eligible, uninsured Pennsylvanians, we have the "Healthy Pennsylvania Option," which provides them with high-quality health care coverage from the private sector.

If the federal government approves Pennsylvania's plan to reform our Medicaid program, the commonwealth would be in a position to utilize federal dollars to offer access to private health care coverage to low-income, newly eligible Pennsylvanians -- those with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- who are uninsured.

The "Healthy Pennsylvania Option" would enable citizens to buy private health insurance plans through the federal health insurance exchange. Just as in the reformed Medicaid program, these individuals would receive access to quality health care, be enabled to search for work or participate in job training and pay a modest monthly premium.

This is a plan that works for our state, our people and our children. We can't afford to expand a broken Medicaid system to cover one in four of our citizens because of a federal mandate. We can insure every citizen using our own initiative and sense of personal independence.

We need a plan that works. "Healthy Pennsylvania" will.

opinion_commentary

Tom Corbett is governor of Pennsylvania.


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