Pennsylvania Moves One Step Closer to Expanding Medicaid

Chris Lilienthal |

Pennsylvania has an unparalleled opportunity to expand Medicaid health coverage under the U.S. health reform law to between 600,000 and 800,000 hardworking low-income Pennsylvanians, lowering the state’s uninsured rate by over 50%.

On Friday evening, the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee moved the commonwealth one step closer to accomplishing that goal by approving a welfare code bill that includes Pennsylvania in the federal Medicaid expansion.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the option of expanding Medicaid coverage to families earning up to 138% of the federal poverty limit ($30,675 for a family of four in 2012). The federal government will pay all of the costs of the expansion between 2014 and 2017, and 90% of the costs by 2019.

The full Senate is expected to vote today, but the effort faces an even bigger hurdle in the House, where 33 members have promised to hold up the state budget (due tomorrow) if Medicaid expansion is included with it.

The welfare code bill sets certain conditions on Pennsylvania’s participation in the Medicaid expansion as the Allentown Morning Call notes in a story today:

Conditions include allowing Pennsylvania to continue operating its Children’s Health Insurance Program, setting co-pays for participants; setting “reasonable employment and job search requirements” for able-bodied adults; and “affirmation that expanded coverage will not constitute an entitlement.”

The bill says Pennsylvania would immediately end expansion if Congress drops its pledge to pay 90 to 100 percent of the costs for expansion enrollees.

Friday’s Senate committee vote was bipartisan, 9-2, with Senators Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) and Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) voting no. Senator Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), the committee chair, voted yes, along with Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Ted Erickson (R-Delaware), Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia), Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), Joseph Scarnati (R-Jefferson), Judy Schwenk (D-Berks), Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin), and Sean Wiley (D-Erie).

On Friday, 33 House Republicans signed a letter stating they will vote against the budget if it or any related bills include Pennsylvania participating in the Medicaid expansion. Earlier in the week, 50 Republican members joined a press conference to oppose the expansion, but only 33 have signed onto Friday’s letter.

As we have written often in recent months, Pennsylvania should take this federal opportunity to expand health coverage: it will create jobs, strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy, and make its citizens healthier and more financially stable. Click here to see how you can take action to make the Medicaid expansion a reality in Pennsylvania.