HARRISBURG – Advocates for the poor and uninsured gathered Tuesday in the Pennsylvania Capitol to throw back Gov. Tom Corbett’s words at him after he warned he was at his “breaking point” over the federal government’s apparent resistance to conditions he wants before accepting billions of Medicaid expansion dollars.
Rather, they said, it is the uninsured who are their breaking point because they do not have access to the government-funded health insurance program Corbett has thus far refused to expand.
Last week, Corbett told reporters he was frustrated over talks with the Obama administration and suggested repeatedly he was getting to his “breaking point.”
“That would be a good thing if he was going to help us,” said Carmela Green, a 51-year-old home health care worker from Williamsport who said she and her husband fall into a gap in President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law that was supposed to be filled by the Medicaid expansion.
The Greens’ income falls short of the threshold of about $15,500 for a couple to qualify for partially subsidized private insurance under the law. Yet they also cannot get access to the broader Medicaid coverage envisioned by the 2010 law because Corbett opposed the expansion in Pennsylvania, unless he secures certain changes in the federal-state program.
Thus far, half the states, including every neighbor to Pennsylvania, have embraced a Medicaid expansion of some sort.
“Pennsylvania is now an island of the uninsured,” Antoinette Kraus, executive director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, told the rally in the Capitol.
The federal Medicaid expansion dollars became available to states Jan. 1. Corbett submitted the plan to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in February, and the agency is accepting public comment on it until Friday. After that, negotiations over the proposal will begin in earnest, Corbett administration officials said.
However, the Corbett administration has said that it would not be ready to administer a Medicaid-funded expansion of health insurance until 2015, and the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 281,000 low-income Pennsylvanians will be left without a health care option under the law until then.
The Medicaid expansion would primarily offer coverage to working adults without children who make $15,200 or less in a year.
Corbett’s plan requests more expansive changes to the Medicaid expansion than any other state has sought so far. Last week, he suggested that, if the federal government rejected all or some of his conditions, it would leave him with the decision of whether to accept what the federal government is willing to allow.
The changes sought by Corbett include using the Medicaid expansion dollars to subsidize private health insurance policies, waiving Medicaid’s rules on retroactive coverage for the plans and pulling coverage from someone who is required to pay a premium and does not. He is also seeking to tighten limits and benefits in the state’s traditional Medicaid program.