HARRISBURG -- Even if Gov. Tom Corbett decides to expand Medicaid eligibility, negotiating and implementing a program would likely take until January 2015, the administration's top human services official said Friday.
That timeline would delay expansion in Pennsylvania at least one year from its start in the federal health care law
As states around the country have announced whether they will make more low-income people eligible for Medicaid coverage -- a part of the Affordable Care Act made optional by the U.S. Supreme Court -- Mr. Corbett has declined to endorse expansion, saying it would be too costly.
But he has not ruled out ultimately agreeing to a form of expanded access, and after meeting last month with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state officials began drafting several models of a program to expand Medicaid eligibility in Pennsylvania, said Beverly Mackereth, acting secretary of the Department of Public Welfare.
The expansion of Medicaid under the health care law begins in 2014, with the federal government paying the full costs of newly eligible enrollees for three years. As discussions between state and federal officials continue, state Senate leaders in recent days have said that if they are to account for Medicaid expansion in the next budget, for the fiscal year beginning July 1, they would need to know in the next several weeks.
But even if the discussions lead Mr. Corbett to support expanding Medicaid, Ms. Mackereth said, the administration believes that the negotiations to reach that point and the work needed to implement the program make it unlikely Pennsylvania could make more people eligible for the health care program before January 2015.
"If everything goes right, and everything is agreed to, and the governor decides that the plan is sustainable and responsible for [Pennsylvania], the earliest that I'm hearing today -- very ambiguous, and please print it that way -- probably would be January 2015," she said. "And those are huge 'ifs.' "
Democrats have advocated for Medicaid expansion, saying it will bring in revenue to the state and create jobs while covering uninsured people.
Senate Democratic leader Jay Costa of Forest Hills said he believes the program can be put into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
"There's no question in my mind the administration is dragging their feet," he said. "You get tired of hearing excuses. Either they're inept and they can't analyze data -- and they've had over a year and a half -- or they don't want to do it."
Carey Miller, a Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman, said officials began asking questions of the federal government as soon as the Supreme Court ruled on the law. After initially receiving responses general to all the states, Corbett administration officials discussed issues specific to Pennsylvania's Medicaid program during the meeting with Ms. Sebelius in April, she said.
If Pennsylvania expands Medicaid eligibility under the law, an additional 643,000 adults would qualify for the benefit, according to the department.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have announced their support for Medicaid expansion, while 20 states have announced their opposition, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a tally that counts as opponents Pennsylvania and other states that have declined to expand without program changes.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141.