Health-care coverage for an estimated 600,000 Pennsylvanians at stake

Pittsburgh, March 8, 2013 – Democratic members of the state Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing in Pittsburgh today to receive testimony from local officials and health-care experts regarding Pennsylvania’s option to expand Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“It is my hope to rally all of us together to build a broad-based movement in order to move the governor and his administration forward into reality to join 24 other states and accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Jim Ferlo, who conducted the hearing. “The long-term battle on this issue is to redefine health care services that specifically meet the needs of our community.”

Ferlo was joined by Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia), who serves as Democratic chair of the committee and Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills). Also participating were Sen. Matt Smith (D-Mt. Lebanon), Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline), Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria), and Sen. Sean Wiley (D-Erie).

Expanding Medicaid eligibility would provide health insurance coverage for an estimated 600,000 individuals while simultaneously reducing health-care costs by making preventative services more readily available. It is estimated that cost savings and additional revenue will amount to more than $670 million if the state participates in the expansion.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) included a provision which allowed, but did not require, states to receive federal subsidies in order to expand Medicaid for the purpose of providing insurance coverage to more people.

The decision on Pennsylvania’s participation rests with Gov. Tom Corbett who has, so far, refused to participate.

Hughes made some important distinctions about Pennsylvanians who receive Medicaid: “There is a misconception of individuals on Medicaid. Recipients are all working individuals who are trying to make ends meet, and do everything that is necessary to provide for their families. Since the passage of Obamacare, now is the time to see full implementation of this plan in order to bring jobs to Pennsylvanians and savings to the state budget.”

Federal funds are available to pay 100 percent of the cost of the expansion from 2014 through 2017, at which point Pennsylvania would take on a small percentage of the costs. Following the full phase-in of state coverage, federal funds will continue to cover 90 percent of the cost of the expansion.

“I am proud that we are having this conversation in Pittsburgh today. We must make certain that we have an opportunity to expand Medicaid to more than a half million people in the commonwealth. If we accept the expansion, there is an opportunity for a significant amount of county savings and we need to highlight that benefit as well. All we need to do is weigh the evidence and do the math,” Costa said.

Studies have shown that individuals who are insured get necessary care and better manage complex, chronic issues. Without access to health care, the uninsured become sicker and ultimately rely on emergency room care that they cannot afford. Pennsylvania hospitals provide more than $800 million in uncompensated care annually, according to industry experts.

Fontana acknowledged the need to move Pennsylvania forward by expanding Medicaid coverage.

“I hope the governor is listening,” he said. “We need everyone’s support to get the message through to him because this is a vital issue for all of us.”

Testimony during the hearing focused on the importance of ensuring that those in need continue receiving access to critical health-care services.

Wiley stressed that the governor must do the right thing and expand Medicaid.

“I don’t know how any human being can look hardworking Pennsylvanians in the eye and still refuse to accept $43 billion in federal funds for much needed health-care services,” he said. “The governor’s excuse that he doesn’t trust the federal government to keep its commitment of funding is simply not an acceptable answer for anyone.”

Smith remarked that expanding access to Medicaid will not only help hospitals, taxpayers, and the state economy, but will generate billions of dollars in economic investment and jobs, studies show.

“Governor Corbett is weakening us by making us the only state in an entire region that is not opting in and reaping significant benefits that Medicaid expansion provides,” he said.

“I think it is so important for the public to know that millions of dollars could be saved here,” said Wozniak “Now is the time to start talking about what the Affordable Care Act really says and stop being disingenuous with the public.”

The hearing was held at Wyndham University Center in Oakland.