HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett may not announce whether he will support the expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law when he delivers his budget address to the Legislature on Tuesday.
What to do about Medicaid is a major dilemma for the Republican governor, who as attorney general earlier joined an ultimately unsuccessful multi-state lawsuit to try to throw out President Barack Obama’s sweeping 2010 health care law.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said that during a meeting with Corbett administration officials Monday he was told they were not able to get all their questions answered by the Obama administration.
Many had hoped the Medicaid decision would be unveiled alongside Corbett’s 2013-14 spending plan.
“He has yet to come to a conclusion,” Pileggi said in an interview after he attended a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting. “We’re not really getting the information we need to make a decision.”
A spokeswoman for Corbett’s Department of Public Welfare, which manages Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, would not say Monday whether the governor had reached a decision on a Medicaid expansion. The spokeswoman, Anne Bale, also said there is no deadline for the governor to decide.
Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, noted that several other Republican governors are committed to a Medicaid expansion — including, on Monday, Ohio’s John Kasich — and said Corbett’s reticence suggests that he is beholden to tea party conservatives who oppose something that could lower the cost of health care and boost the state’s economy.
“The tea party has him in their grips,” said Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
On Tuesday, Corbett is expected to announce a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that increases spending slightly over this year’s $27.7 billion to account for the rising costs for public employee pensions, health care for the poor, debt and prisons.
He has said he will call for changes to pensions in an effort to lower the government’s cost and is expected to roll out a long-term plan to improve the state’s roads, bridges and mass transit that revolves around raising wholesale fuel taxes.
Corbett has said he would ask the Legislature for level funding for higher education and has left the door open to an increase in funding for public schools. For the past two years, Corbett has held the line on income and sales taxes while lowering broad-based business taxes, and he is expected to continue that in his third budget.
Under the federal health care law, states can increase the eligibility under their Medicaid programs to people whose incomes equal 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Expanding it would provide government health insurance to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians, with the federal government paying the lion’s share of the cost.
Even though the federal government would absorb all of the cost of new enrollees in 2014 through 2016, the Corbett administration worries that it would result in more than $4 billion in costs to Pennsylvania taxpayers in the coming eight years.
However, Democrats say expanding Medicaid will flush about $4 billion into the state each year and save about $670 million a year for Pennsylvania taxpayers, both in higher tax revenues and lower state costs to cover people who are uninsured.
The federal share of the cost of the Medicaid expansion would gradually reduce to 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter.
More than 2 million people are currently covered by Medicaid in Pennsylvania, with the federal government paying slightly more than half the cost.
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