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Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett's Medicaid change expected to have little impact with voters

| Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, 7:42 p.m.

HARRISBURG — The federal government's approval of Gov. Tom Corbett's modified Medicaid plan is a victory for the Republican seeking re-election but not an issue that resonates deeply enough with voters to turn around a race led by Democrat Tom Wolf, experts say.

Corbett, a Shaler Republican, and Wolf, a York County businessman, square off in the November election.

“It's positive for Gov. Corbett's re-election, but it is not a game-changer,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Asked about that, Corbett's campaign manager Mike Barley said: “We'll see. It'll obviously be measured in November.”

On Thursday, the Obama administration approved Corbett's tailored plan for Pennsylvanians that includes monthly premiums, reduces the number of Medicaid plans from 14 to two, institutes co-pays for inappropriate use of emergency rooms and specifies voluntary job search and training.

Wolf intends to push for full expansion of Medicaid, spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said.

Corbett battled with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington for more than a year.

“Gov. Tom Corbett fought the White House and won to get the waiver he needed to bypass President Obama's Medicaid expansion,” Barley said in a statement upon the announcement.

Corbett will “implement his Healthy PA plan that provides incentives for Pennsylvanians to find better employment, instead of having to remain unemployed or under-employed out of fear of losing their health benefits,” he wrote.

That's exactly the pitch Corbett should make to the electorate, in light of the “tremendous policy victory,” said Larry Ceisler, a public relations consultant from Philadelphia with Democratic ties. The decision helps because Corbett could boast few successes, he said.

“But I don't think it's an issue that jump-starts the campaign,” Ceisler said.

Ceisler noted that a Franklin & Marshall Poll last week showed education, unemployment and taxes rank as top issues for voters, and health care/insurance trailed far behind.

Wolf led Corbett by 25 percentage points in the poll of 520 voters, with an error margin of plus or minus 4.3 points.

“I don't think any one issue will help him,” said Bev Cigler, a political science professor at Penn State's Harrisburg campus. “He's down a couple of dozen points. It's going to be a long, long haul.”

Fighting the Affordable Care Act and winning should help Corbett with his Republican base, where his support has faltered, Borick said.

“He can say, ‘I stood up to Obamacare.' I can see that in an ad very clearly,” Borick said.

The Medicaid decision takes a key issue “off the table” for Wolf that he hit during the primary race, said Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics. More than 500,000 people will gain access to insurance coverage, he said.

“I think (Corbett) will get a bump” from the news, Coleman said.

Corbett has been subject to “the baseless charge that he hasn't been successful in doing anything,” said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based GOP consultant whose firm is under contract with the Corbett campaign.

Gerow said Corbett successfully secured litigation reform, transportation funding and now Medicaid reform.

But the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which returns to session next month, has not passed two of Corbett's priorities — liquor privatization and reform of the public employee pension system.

“I know it sounds cliché, but this was about policy,” Barley said. “He was dealing with a broken piece of legislation (Obamacare.) He was able to come up with a PA-style plan.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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