State leaders unsure when, or if, feds will approve Healthy Pennsylvania

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State leaders held the final one in a series of public hearings on Governor Tom Corbett’s Healthy Pennsylvania plan Thursday, with dozens of people speaking about its potential impacts on the commonwealth.

“It’s a very complex and controversial plan. It has to be approved by the federal government, and we’re not clear that that’s going to happen,” said Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act in 2012, it left it up to states to determine whether to expand Medicaid utilizing federal money. About half the states and Washington, D.C., have chosen to do so. Under the plan, the federal government pays the total cost of expansion to cover people who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid but also can’t afford private insurance. After the third year of the program, the federal match begins to drop to 90 percent.

Gov. Corbett rejected the plan and instead crafted his own, which would allow roughly 500,000 Pennsylvanians to use that money to buy private health insurance.

“Our current Medicaid structure is not financially sustainable. That’s really the key issue here. We have to reform current Medicaid anyway,” said Secretary of Public Welfare Beverly Mackereth.

Mackereth pointed out about 2.2 million, or one in six Pennsylvanians, utilize Medicaid currently. Medicaid accounts for about 27 percent of the state’s budget and totals about $20 billion annually between state and federal resources.

“Every piece of this plan will be negotiated with (the federal government). There are parts of it that they like, that they’ll work with us on. And, then there are parts of it that they have concerns about,” said Mackereth.

As part of Healthy Pennsylvania, Corbett is asking for a series of waivers from the government in terms of policy. Among them, Corbett wants people living at or near the poverty level to pay a monthly premium.

An adult making greater than 50 percent and up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level would pay $13 per month. People who are late with payments could be penalized.

“The easier way actually would have been to just say ‘OK, we’re going to expand Medicaid.’ We can’t afford it. So, for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, we need to do this the right way,” said Mackereth.

Kraus views the plan as a delay tactic and wants the Corbett administration to accept the Medicaid money now while issues with Healthy Pennsylvania are sorted out.

“It’s just a delay that’s costing taxpayer money and leaving folks out in the cold,” Kraus said.

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