Pennsylvania is taking a pass on a major expansion to its Medicaid program, at least for now.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, in a letter sent today to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, said that "The Medicaid program in Pennsylvania is on an unsustainable path. ... I firmly believe we can serve more of our citizens in Pennsylvania, but only if we are given the independence and flexibility to do so.
"At this time, without serious reforms, it would be financially unsustainable for Pennsylvania taxpayers, and I cannot recommend a dramatic Medicaid expansion," said the letter, released today as part of the governor's budget address.
One of the major components of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act of 2010 was relaxing the financial eligibility for Medicaid, the state-operated health care program for the poor. Relaxing the income standards would allow more people to join the program, but because of the 2012 Supreme Court ruling on "Obamacare," the Medicaid expansion is optional, not mandatory.
That means governors and legislatures have discretion as to whether or not to expand their Medicaid rosters. Mr. Corbett, in his letter, says the expansion would cost too much, and would require "a large tax increase on Pennsylvania families."
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the extra Medicaid costs for three years, and 90 percent thereafter. For many governors, including some Republican ones, that was a good deal.
Last month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said she would take the money, to help accommodate Arizona's large uninsured population. And on Monday, Ohio, Gov. John Kasich, also a Republican, said he would also expand the Buckeye State's Medicaid eligibility, which will cover hundreds of thousands of uninsured Ohioans.
Democrats, who favor the expansion, were displeased with today's letter.
"Gov. Corbett chose to pander to the far right and willfully inflict damage on Pennsylvania's economy," said state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, in a Tuesday afternoon press statement. "The Republican governors of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and now neighboring Ohio have agreed to accept federal funds to improve health care in their states because they know it's vital for their states' economies, it's vital for keeping hospitals open and it's the right thing to do."
The governor's letter, Mr. Frankel said, essentially denies 600,000 Pennsylvanians the opportunity to access low-cost health care.
Bill Toland: firstname.lastname@example.org