Gift horse: Corbett's Medicaid indecision hurts Pennsylvania

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Gov. Tom Corbett seems to have a problem making up his mind -- and perhaps part of the problem is that he is stubborn. While that assessment does not fully do justice to his motives, it is the perception that is taking hold in the public mind. It is one reason why Democrats are becoming increasingly confident that he is destined to be a one-term governor.

Consider his refusal thus far to approve an expansion to Pennsylvania's Medicaid program. This amounts to looking a gift horse in the mouth -- and doing it at the expense of some of the state's most vulnerable residents.

It is estimated that 643,000 additional low-income adults will be covered by the Medicaid expansion if the Corbett administration agrees. The deal is that the federal government will pay the full cost of new Medicaid participants for three years. After that, the federal government will reduce its subsidy to 90 percent in 2020.

From the start, Mr. Corbett's position has been rooted in a concern about the future burden of the expansion to Pennsylvania's finances in light of what he perceives as a lack of answers from the Obama administration. Last week, the governor met in Washington, D.C., with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. While the talks were described by HHS officials as constructive, the governor's concern was not allayed.

Yet talks go on with the federal government and Mr. Corbett hasn't ruled out accepting the expansion. There is at least a hint here that something might be worked out, which would not be happening if he did not see some merit in the plan. In response to a question about when a possible agreement might be reached, he mentioned the budgetary implications. "If we don't get it done in the next month or six weeks, maybe it's two months, maybe it's three months, maybe it's next year. Maybe we don't do anything."

It's reasonable for a spending-averse governor to worry about future costs, but Mr. Corbett's position raises political suspicions. He was an opponent of the Affordable Care Act, a party to the suit that sought to overturn it. The Medicaid expansion is a key component of that legislation. Critics can be forgiven for thinking his stand is more political sour grapes than principle.

It does not help his position that other Republican governors -- every bit as conservative and opposed to Obamacare -- have looked at the expansion and signed on to it. Why do the likes of Michigan's Rick Snyder, Ohio's John Kasich, Arizona's Jan Brewer and New Jersey's Chris Christie see a good deal when Mr. Corbett can't?

Gov. Corbett needs to invest in people and accept that Obamacare is here to stay. If he dithers on the way to doing nothing, he risks spending four years of idleness, beginning in 2015, to consider where he went wrong. The voters are more likely to bite him than the gift horse.

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