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Corbett reviewing options for Medicaid reform, not expansion, aides say

| Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Denying reports that he has agreed to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, aides to Gov. Tom Corbett said on Thursday he is reviewing options for Medicaid reform that he will outline next week.

“This is not Medicaid expansion,” Jennifer Branstetter, the governor's policy director, told the Tribune-Review.

Communications Director Lynn Lawson said Corbett “does not support growing an entitlement program, as he has been very clear about the need for reform. There are a number of interesting options to consider, and they are currently under review.”

One option could be to utilize private-sector health plans, rather than increase Medicaid enrollment. Iowa and Arkansas are considering such an approach. That would enable the states to get federal money for backing expansion and buy private insurance for low-income residents.

About 800,000 Pennsylvanians don't have insurance.

Since January, Corbett has negotiated with the federal Health and Human Services Department on Medicaid, asking for more flexibility in administering the program. He wants reforms that include premiums for people on Medicaid above certain income levels and work requirements for those enrolled.

On Monday, he'll likely formalize those negotiating points into a plan to present to HHS.

Todd Shamash, a deputy chief of staff, said Corbett seeks a “solution to improve health care access for Pennsylvanians, as well as reform to Medicaid.”

Corbett is expected to continue to pursue keeping the Children's Health Insurance Program intact under the Affordable Care Act. Federal regulators on Tuesday denied an exception to retain the program, known as CHIP. As a result, 50,000 children could move to Medicaid. More than 180,000 children are enrolled in CHIP.

State officials say Medicaid benefits are higher, but the change could disrupt physician coverage, because some doctors won't accept Medicaid.

Administered by states, the federal health insurance program provides free or low-cost coverage to more than 50 million children, families, pregnant women, and people with disabilities nationwide.

As an attorney general before becoming governor, Corbett was one of several attorneys general who sued to block the Affordable Care Act that became known as Obamacare. A Supreme Court decision last year upheld the law but left Medicaid expansion up to states.

Pennsylvania is one of 13 states whose governors have refused to expand under the federal plan. Corbett repeatedly has warned that state taxpayers can't afford the cost when federal money runs out. Critics say he would forgo millions of dollars from the government by not expanding.

If Pennsylvania agrees to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act's provisions, it would become the 27th state to do so.

Democrats in the Legislature are pushing for the expansion, saying it would provide $180 million more for the 2013-14 budget. Corbett administration officials suggest that number is wrong and that long-range predictions are too optimistic.

Facing re-election next year and with dismal ratings in public opinion polls, Corbett's position likely will become a campaign issue. He had not ruled out an expansion of the program while negotiating with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

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

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