Moving target: Corbett has a new excuse to resist Medicaid plan

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The Corbett administration has thrown up its latest objections over the proposed expansion of Medicaid coverage that could mean health insurance for an estimated 643,000 additional low-income, working Pennsylvanians.

Gov. Tom Corbett has been opposed to the federal Affordable Care Act since long before it was enacted, and his resistance to the provision that allows states to make more people eligible for Medicaid is not softening. The latest evidence came May 17 when his acting secretary of public welfare, Beverly D. Mackereth, sent a letter disputing an analysis of the proposal done by the state's Independent Fiscal Office.

The office, established in 2010, is a nonpartisan numbers cruncher that is supposed to provide impartial analysis for use in state budgeting, similar to the Congressional Budget Office on the federal level. Director Matthew Knittel said it's the first time the relatively new agency's analysis has been rebutted.

Last month, the office released a study that concluded Pennsylvania would receive more federal money and reduce state expenditures if it proceeds with the expansion. It found that raising the income cutoff for Medicaid as permitted under Obamacare would have an average annual effect in the calendar years 2016 to 2021 of increasing federal expenditures by $3.2 billion and decreasing net state expenditures by $190 million. Studies by the Pennsylvania Economy League and Rand Corp. reached similar conclusions.

Ms. Mackereth questioned the figures last month, and the fiscal office responded with some revisions on May 13.

The next volley came from Ms. Mackereth. She questioned the agency's methodology including, among others, its assumptions on the timing of the expansion, the number of employees it would take to handle the influx of new beneficiaries, the way some recipients would be switched under the program and the number of individuals who are eligible now but who might enroll under a revised coverage plan.

Mr. Knittel wrote on May 20 that the additional points raised in Ms. Mackereth's latest letter "do not change the overall findings of the report."

The Corbett administration's response to the Medicaid proposal is starting to look like a case of continually moving the target so it can't be hit. Mr. Corbett had said he wanted a sit-down with federal officials to go over his questions and concerns yet, after that took place, he said he needed still more data. Now, despite agreement among respected researchers, he is suggesting the state's independent office doesn't have the right information to conduct its analysis.

Mr. Corbett should trust the state's Independent Fiscal Office and follow up its analysis with a plan to help thousands of hard-working Pennsylvania families.

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