Inquirer Editorial: Corbett wrong to oppose Medicaid expansion

Posted: November 25, 2012

With a $27 billion state budget, Pennsylvania should be able to spend less than 1 percent of that amount to make sure 600,000 of its most vulnerable citizens have their basic health-care needs met.

That's Harrisburg's estimate of the eventual annual cost several years down the road to expand the state's Medicaid health insurance program. Expanding Medicaid nationwide is a key element in the landmark health-system overhaul, aimed at covering most of the nearly 50 million Americans now without insurance.

Pennsylvania's higher Medicaid tab wouldn't come due until late in the second term that Gov. Corbett clearly intends to seek. Even so, the governor last week said he didn't think the state could afford the additional $178 million. That shortsighted view is in keeping with his unworkable no-tax pledge to tea-party elements of the Republican Party.

At least Corbett stopped short of saying he'd refuse the option of increasing the Medicaid rolls. Despite his opposition to what he and other GOP critics call Obamacare, Corbett should put the interests of the state's nearly 1 million uninsured citizens first.

What's more, Corbett's continued foot-dragging on enacting provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act could soon become self-defeating for a much wider group of interests - first and foremost, businesses.

The Medicaid expansion comes with a massive financial carrot from Washington. For the first three years, federal funding will cover all the costs, dropping only to 90 percent after that.

Beyond the immediate benefit to needy Pennsylvanians who gain coverage, the expansion should mean hospitals spend less treating patients who show up at emergency rooms without insurance. And since Medicaid recipients will get earlier treatment for potentially chronic conditions, the state's health-care system as a whole will save in the long run.

In business terms, the ACA will mean hundreds of thousands of new paying customers for health-care providers across the state, and a boost to a critical engine of economic growth in this region.

With good reason, the smartest policy move for Harrisburg - just as it is in Trenton for Gov. Christie - would be to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. It's being called the most important public policy decision in decades on behalf of the state's most vulnerable citizens. But it also makes good business sense for hospitals, medical practices, and other health-care industry stakeholders. It's time for them to let the governor know that.

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