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Senate panel OKs conditions for Medicaid expansion

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A Senate panel on Friday approved a bill establishing conditions for Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania, a program that would provide health insurance to more than 600,000 low-income Pennsylvanians.

Opponents say the expansion will be too costly for state taxpayers in the start-up phase and long range as federal funding declines. Supporters say taxpayers and ratepayers are paying anyway to cover costs of uninsured people treated in hospital emergency rooms.

“While we welcome the opportunity to receive additional funding to provide coverage for those in need, we must ensure that we have the resources available for those already being served,” Public Health and Welfare Committee Chair Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, said later. “While expanding health care coverage to as many people as possible is a worthwhile goal, we need flexibility in order to do so without breaking the bank.”

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, voted against it.

“I am in complete disagreement with the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion is part of that,” Ward said. “The federal government, and not the state, is supposedly going to fund the approximately 700,000 new enrollees that will result from the expansion, but that money is still coming from the pockets of Pennsylvania taxpayers.”

The bill imposes conditions on any agreement between the state and federal government such as maximized use of commercial insurance, “reasonable” employment and job search requirements.

It keeps Pennsylvania's Childrens Health Insurance Program rather than switching those covered under CHIP to Medicaid.

States have the choice of expanding under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. About half of the states have told federal officials they're in. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has told federal Health and Human Services the state needs more flexibility. Aides say he is keeping his options open as he negotiates with HHS.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, told caucus leaders last week he would not run a Medicaid expansion bill.

However, the Senate, controlled by Republicans, attached the Medicaid amendment to the state's Welfare code bill, an essential ingredient to passing a state budget.

The constitution requires passage of a state budget by midnight Sunday.

“I am thrilled by this important first step,” said Cheryl Jones, a home healthcare worker from Erie without health insurance.

“It was a bipartisan effort, which sends a really strong message to Governor Corbett that this is what the people of the Commonwealth want – Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Elaijah Shepard, a daycare worker from Pittsburgh, said medicaid expansion would allow her to go to college by relieving the financial burden she feels when getting treated at the doctor.

“I've never been so fearful to go to the doctor's office,” she said. “I'm on my own, so that's why it's important to me -- I would have to go back to nothing -- There is no hope and I can't live with that, not now.”

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter and Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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