Many urge governor to expand Medicaid at public hearing in Oakland
Shona Eakin, executive director of Voices for Independence, testifies to the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee on the impact of the expansion of Medicaid during a public hearing held Friday at the Wyndham University Center in Oakland.
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Speaking from her wheelchair, Shona Eakin brought a room to its feet Friday.
Ms. Eakin, the executive director of the Erie-based agency Voices for Independence, was one of several people who spoke at a public hearing hosted by Democratic members of the state Senate Appropriations Committee at the Wyndham University Center in Oakland.
The topic of the hearing was the Medicaid expansion option, which is part of President Barack Obama's new health care law. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its ruling that the law was constitutional, also said it was up to each state to decide whether to expand eligibility for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.
So far, Gov. Tom Corbett has not recommended expanding the program.
In testimony that was often tearful, Ms. Eakin urged him to reconsider. For her, the topic is personal.
At 5 a.m. each morning for the last decade, an attendant has gone to Ms. Eakin's home to help her get dressed for work. Her attendant, however, does not have health insurance of her own, so she cannot afford preventive care.
And when she does get sick, she cannot afford to take much time off, a situation that Ms. Eakin said is similar to the plight faced by many other home care workers, including hundreds connected to her organization, in that they are people who work hard but remain vulnerable without health care.
"I ask you to look at the injustice in that," Ms. Eakin said Friday.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said he would show Ms. Eakin's emotional testimony to Mr. Corbett, calling Medicaid expansion "a commonsense thing to do."
Mr. Corbett, however, continues to cite concerns about the cost of the program. In a letter sent Feb. 5 to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Mr. Corbett said Medicaid expansion would cost Pennsylvania $1 billion in new taxpayer dollars through 2015-16 and more than $4.1 billion by the end of 2020-21.
"The governor still remains concerned about expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania without reforms, and that's what he is working on right now, in terms of trying to get answers and questions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services," spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said.
In recent weeks, other Republic governors, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, have signed on to the Medicaid expansion option. Erin Ninehouser of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network cited a few of their reasons in testimony she gave at the hearing Friday, while urging Mr. Corbett to expand the program in Pennsylvania.
"Medicaid is the difference between whether or not someone can recover financially from an illness or an accident," she said.
Others testifying in support of expansion included Ronald Voorhees, interim director of the Allegheny County Health Department, and Patricia Valentine of the county Department of Human Services, who both spoke of the benefits Medicaid expansion could bring to providing health care in Allegheny County.
According to Ms. Valentine's testimony, an expansion of benefits would allow the department, whose services range from mental health to drug and alcohol treatment, to provide care that is "more comprehensive and more effective."
First Published March 9, 2013 12:00 am