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Pennsylvania Governor Talks Up Plan To Expand Medicaid His Way

Oct 25, 2013
Originally published on October 25, 2013 7:55 pm

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett may have been watching fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio who bypassed the Republican Legislature in his state this week to expand Medicaid.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, states have the option to make coverage available to low-income adults, with the federal government picking up the entire tab for the first three years.

Only about half the states so far have planned to do that, starting Jan. 1, and Pennsylvania has, so far, not been among them.

But Corbett is now canvassing the state touting his Healthy Pennsylvania plan, which calls for accepting the federal funding to expand Medicaid, with some caveats.

"We need [a] medical insurance program that's designed for Pennsylvania. One size does not fit all," Corbett said at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia recently.

Healthy Pennsylvania would direct newly eligible people, mostly low-income adults without children, into the health insurance exchange where they could buy private coverage. That's in contrast to how it works now, where the state puts Medicaid patients into private managed care plans and sets the rates for what doctors and hospitals are paid.

Corbett's idea is to use the federal expansion funds to subsidize people buying individual plans instead. "Most important, it's not putting 500,000 more people into an entitlement program," he said. "It's putting them in a program where they are invested in the program, they are invested in their health care, in a way where a person in Medicaid may not have that same personal investment," he said.

Last month, the federal government approved a plan by Arkansas that allows new Medicaid recipients to shop for coverage on the insurance exchange. The Arkansas decision shows that the feds are willing to let states be creative with the expanded program. Corbett's plan differs from Arkansas' though, so federal approval isn't guaranteed. He'd also change some current Medicaid benefits and include a job-training component.

"The governor is looking for a way to draw down the federal money," says Nicole Huberfeld, a professor of health law at the University of Kentucky. She's not surprised by Corbett's latest move. "The Legislature may or may not be on board, but the governor recognizes a lot of federal money to be had that will likely save the state a lot of money in the long run," she says.

When the Supreme Court gave the states the option last year to expand Medicaid, many Republicans didn't have an appetite to do it, no matter who paid the bill, according to Matt Baker, a Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania. "The Democrats in Harrisburg, by and large, support a full-blown Medicaid expansion," he says. "The Republicans do not. And we're very, very concerned about the cost."

But Baker doesn't view Corbett's plan as an expansion because of the shared responsibility element, and it doesn't appear to be facing severe political backlash.

Democratic leaders worry Corbett is moving too slowly and say they want more details. But some advocates for a full expansion are cautiously optimistic, including Michael Race of Pennsylvania's Partnerships for Children. While he "would have preferred to see Medicaid expansion put on the table," he says he was hopeful early on a plan would surface.

The whole plan isn't a done deal, but the University of Kentucky's Huberfeld says one thing is clear: Federal officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have signaled from the outset that they're willing to work with states to give them maximum flexibility to expand Medicaid under their own terms.

This piece is part of a collaboration among NPR, WHYY and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2014 WHYY, Inc.. To see more, visit http://www.whyy.org.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Expanding Medicaid has been one of the most politically contentious parts of the Affordable Care Act. As John just mentioned, the expansion would result in more coverage for low-income adults with the federal government picking up most of the tab.

This week, Ohio's governor bypassed his own Republican legislature to push the expansion forward in his state. We have a story now from next door, in Pennsylvania, where the governor is taking a different approach. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Elana Gordon reports.

ELANA GORDON, BYLINE: Over the last few weeks, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has been canvassing the state, touting his new healthy Pennsylvania plan. He most recently made the rounds at a children's hospital in north Philadelphia.

GOVERNOR TOM CORBETT: I want to see the...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Been 13 months.

CORBETT: 13 months?

GORDON: Corbett's plan includes reauthorizing the children's health insurance program. But maybe more importantly, it also calls for accepting the generous federal Medicaid dollars that are part of the Affordable Care Act with certain caveats.

CORBETT: Thank you. We need medical insurance program that's designed for Pennsylvania. One size does not fit all.

GORDON: Corbett's concept is to direct newly eligible people, mostly low-income childless adults, into the health care marketplace where they could buy private coverage. Right now, the state controls how Medicaid money is spent. Corbett's idea is to take those new federal expansion funds to help subsidize people buying those private plans instead. He'd also change some current Medicaid benefits and include a job training component.

CORBETT: Most importantly, though, it's not putting 500,000 more people into an entitlement program. It's putting them in a program where they are invested in the program. They are invested in their health care.

NICOLE HUBERFELD: The governor is looking for a way to draw down the federal money,

GORDON: Nicole Huberfeld is a professor of health law at the University of Kentucky. She says, when you look a map, about half of states, mostly Democratic, are moving forward with some kind of expansion. She isn't surprised by Corbett's latest move. She says the federal money is too much for governors, Republican or Democrat, to pass up.

HUBERFELD: The legislature may or may not be on board, but the governor recognizes that there's a lot of federal money to be had that will likely, ultimately, save the state a lot of money in the long run.

GORDON: When the Supreme Court gave states the option last year to expand Medicaid, there wasn't much of an appetite for it no matter who paid the bill. That's according to Matt Baker, a Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania who chairs the state's House Health Committee.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE MATTHEW BAKER: The Democrats in Harrisburg, by and large, support a full blown Medicaid expansion. The Republicans do not.

GORDON: Baker doesn't view Corbett's plan as an expansion, and it doesn't appear to be facing severe political backlash. Pennsylvania State Senate majority leader, Republican Dominic Pileggi, says conversations about Medicaid had been seeping into the political discourse months earlier when Pennsylvania's neighbor, New Jersey, opted for an expansion.

STATE SENATOR DOMINIC PILEGGI: It would be foolish for us to leave people uninsured and leave our hospitals and health care providers providing care to these uninsured individuals while the money that we send to Washington goes to other states to deal with their issues.

GORDON: Democratic leaders worry Corbett's moving too slowly and are still awaiting more details. But at least some advocates for a full expansion are cautiously optimistic. Michael Race is with Pennsylvania's Partnership for Children and says he was hopeful early on a plan would surface.

MICHAEL RACE: While we would have preferred to see Medicaid expansion put on the table, the governor put forth a plan that can still have the same net effect.

GORDON: The whole plan isn't a done deal, but Huberfeld with the University of Kentucky says one thing is clear, federal Health and Human Services or HHS officials have signaled from the onset, they're willing to work with states.

HUBERFELD: HHS has the authority to give states the power basically to not comply with Medicaid with the approval of HHS.

GORDON: ...work with states.

HUBERFELD: HHS has the authority to give states the power, basically, to not comply with Medicaid, with the approval of HHS.

GORDON: And they most recently did that for the first time, by approving a similar alternative plan for Arkansas. NPR news, I'm Elana Gordon in Philadelphia.

CORNISH: This piece is part of a collaboration among NPR, WHYY and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.