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Senate passes welfare bill without Medicaid expansion language

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 3:18 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Senators on Wednesday backed off pushing legislation that would require Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.

The Republican-controlled Senate, by a vote of 27-22, approved a welfare bill the House passed with no expansion provisions.

The Senate on Sunday voted 40-10 to mandate expansion of Medicaid, a choice left to states under the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.

But on Monday, the House, also under Republican control, sliced the Medicaid language out of the welfare bill, sent the bill back to the Senate and left the capital city.

That gave the Senate three choices: Agree with the House bill, reject it and set up negotiations with the House, or amend the bill and return it to the House for possible consideration in September.

Expanding Medicaid would provide health insurance to 500,000 to 800,000 low-income Pennsylvanians without insurance coverage.

“What they have right now is nothing,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. “We (legislators) have insurance. Why can't they?”

Opponents of Medicaid expansion said it would saddle Pennsylvania taxpayers with enormous long-range costs when federal money is exhausted.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has straddled the issue, saying he is negotiating with federal Health and Human Services officials to give the state more flexibility in administering the program.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, said leaving the welfare code unfinished risked hundreds of millions of dollars by jeopardizing the hospital assessment. It is used to compensate hospitals and nursing homes to cover disparities in Medicaid payments.

Pileggi, who supports expansion, said he understands that Corbett would veto a bill that included Medicaid expansion.

Public Health and Welfare Committee Chair Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, said she will sponsor legislation this fall to require Medicaid expansion.

The Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to send the state's fiscal code bill back to the House after removing language legalizing “payday loans” in Pennsylvania. That language was a surprise, tucked into a bill with little notice.

The fiscal code is one of many bills implementing provisions of the state budget.

Payday loans carry high interest rates and are provided to borrowers for short terms.

Senators said the House would return Monday for a nonvoting session and could resolve it then.

Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, said there are no plans to vote that day. House leaders are looking into whether the issue can wait until September.

Having no fiscal code would not negate the state's ability to spend money, Pileggi said. Senate attorneys reviewed the issue and found no problem with spending.

Corbett officials disagreed.

Secretary of the Budget Charles Zogby said, “If left to languish, it will reduce this year's available funding by $235 million, potentially forcing cuts to higher education and will impact our ability to further fund Philadelphia schools.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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