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3 top employees out at Pa. public welfare agency

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett's administration has terminated three top employees of the Department of Public Welfare several weeks after the departure of the agency's secretary, who was an advocate for welfare austerity measures and opposed an expansion of Medicaid to extend taxpayer-paid health care to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians.

A department spokeswoman, Carey Miller, declined Monday to say why the men lost their jobs, calling it a personnel matter.

Terminated were Philip Abromats, the executive director of audits and regulatory affairs, and special assistants Erik Randolph and Ron Semerjian. Former Secretary Gary Alexander's last day was Feb. 15.

Abromats said in an interview that he was fired without notice on Friday and not told why. Randolph was fired on Friday as well, and Semerjian was fired on Monday, according to the Corbett administration.

Abromats and the other two men had been closely associated either personally with Alexander or with the policies he had advanced, Abromats said.

The terminations occur as Corbett is under pressure to do something about health care, as more than half the nation's governors join the Medicaid expansion under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, consider it or look for alternatives.

Alexander, a Rhode Island resident, did not immediately respond to a request for comment by email on Monday.

He oversaw the elimination of a cash program for certain disabled adults, the tightening of eligibility rules for food stamps and an effort to root out waste in Medicaid that advocates for the poor say resulted in tens of thousands of eligible adults and children getting kicked out of the program.

Alexander had opposed an expansion of Medicaid, and Corbett has opposed it up until now as well, although he is expected to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the coming weeks.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, noted Monday that nearly every other closely contested state in the November election that has a Republican governor is embracing the Medicaid expansion.

“Just about every swing-state Republican governor has bought into the issue, and ... Pennsylvania is now an outlier in this conversation,” Hughes said.

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