To: President Barack Obama
From: State Senator Vincent Hughes
Subject: Healthy PA
Dear President Obama,
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett recently provided long-awaited details on his so-called “Healthy PA” plan to extend health insurance to low-income working adults. He is seeking a federal waiver to implement his proposal. It’s good news that Gov. Corbett wants to expand coverage. Unfortunately, his plan falls drastically short of what could be done in Pennsylvania. Simply expanding Pennsylvania’s traditional Medicaid program is far superior. I urge you to reject his plan and encourage him to simply accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. That way Pennsylvania can provide low-cost health insurance to more than 500,000 working adults almost immediately.
Gov. Corbett claims that he wants more “flexibility” than provided by traditional Medicaid and announced he wants a federal waiver to expand Medicaid using the private marketplace established on Healthcare.gov. The governor claims this would be a better option than simply accepting $4 billion annually from the federal government. I believe this is a mistake. PA’s Medicaid program is already run by the private sector and has a long history of success providing quality health coverage and saving billions in taxpayer dollars.
Gov. Corbett’s model, crafted with similarities to the Arkansas plan, forces Pennsylvania recipients to purchase their insurance through the national healthcare exchange (Healthcare.gov), even though he made the decision to not establish a state run exchange as other states have done for their residents. The federal exchange, despite dramatic improvements, remains a far more cumbersome process than simple Medicaid expansion. This threatens to leave very vulnerable people with no insurance coverage at all.
The biggest issue is timing. If Gov. Corbett had chosen to expand Medicaid, the system would be in place now. The governor’s own waiver acknowledges that his proposal is unlikely to expand coverage for eligible individuals until January 1st, 2015, at the earliest. This delay has serious fiscal and public health ramifications.
Under Gov. Corbett’s plan, there will be at least 500,000 people who will be left in the lurch without health insurance this year. They would have been covered under Medicaid, but most of these individuals will not qualify for any subsides to purchase coverage until a new plan is put in place. This is unacceptable and could easily be avoided by simply expanding traditional Medicaid. It’s especially troubling because these individuals are working adults who don’t make enough money to afford insurance. They are playing by the rules, but are being left behind by Gov. Corbett.
Expanding Medicaid would have saved significant dollars for Pennsylvania taxpayers. According to the state’s Independent Fiscal Office, expanding Medicaid would generate about $400 million in state budget savings during the next fiscal year. State budget experts say that Pennsylvania may be facing a deficit of as much as $1.4 billion. We cannot afford to ignore any opportunity of this magnitude to reduce that deficit.
To balance prior state budgets Governor Corbett has resorted to dramatic cuts in public education that caused both you and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to express deep concern. The need to find dollars to respond to Pennsylvania’s fiscal needs is paramount. It’s unclear if Corbett’s alterative plan would save any money, let alone $400 million in the next fiscal year. It is clear that expanding Medicaid is the financially responsible choice for Pennsylvania.
Finally, it’s not even certain that Pennsylvania will get Gov. Corbett’s program up and running by 2015. Many in your administration have been cool to numerous provisions in the current proposal, especially a work-search requirement for subsidy recipients. This is something that is unlikely to be approved, but Gov. Corbett included it in his waiver anyway. Some have suggested this indicates that the Corbett Administration is trying to get federal officials to reject their plan so that they can place the blame on Washington, DC.
The facts clearly show that expanding Medicaid is superior to Gov. Corbett’s alternative proposal. It’s the best way to get coverage for more than 500,000 people, save $400 million for Pennsylvania’s state budget, and create more than 35,000 new jobs. For the sake of the people of Pennsylvania, I am asking that you reject the proposal that the governor has offered.
State Senator Vincent Hughes