Inquirer Editorial: Should expand Medicaid's rolls

Gov. Christie. Associated Press
Gov. Christie. Associated Press
Posted: February 28, 2013

New Jerseyans can breathe a sigh of relief that Gov. Christie on Tuesday joined the growing ranks of Republican governors savvy enough to put aside party loyalty and embrace a key element of Obamacare.

Christie's decision to enact an expansion of Medicaid is a move that, as the governor noted in his budget speech, "will provide health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income New Jerseyans, help keep our hospitals financially healthy, and actually save money" for the state's taxpayers.

With Christie's progressive move - he's the eighth GOP governor to do so - it makes even less sense for Gov. Corbett to remain a holdout on Medicaid.

Health-care stakeholders in one state after another are concluding that the Affordable Care Act's pledge of three years' full federal funding to insure more of the working poor through Medicaid is too good to pass up.

A notable convert is tea-party darling and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Last week, Scott called the expansion "a commonsense solution." Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has also had a change of heart. She now says the move will help hospitals and other caregivers not adequately compensated for indigent care.

If Corbett expands Medicaid, Pennsylvania would see similar gains in time under President Obama's signature effort to put health coverage within reach of 17 million people nationwide.

Indeed, a study released last week indicated Corbett's refusal to expand Medicaid would cost the state 41,200 new jobs in 2016, along with $3.5 billion more in Medicaid funding from the feds. (A more conservative outlook said 11,000 jobs could be created by expanding Medicaid.) More important, without the expansion, as many as 682,000 uninsured, low-income Pennsylvanians won't gain access to an affordable health plan.

Similarly, had Christie not made the right decision, he would be forgoing an estimated $1.7 billion yearly boost to the New Jersey economy, while stranding 300,000 residents who lack health coverage. Little wonder Christie called the Medicaid expansion "the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health."

Meanwhile, the situation for the uninsured continues to worsen on Corbett's watch. A just-released state Department of Public Welfare report shows that the rolls of Pennsylvania residents receiving medical assistance dropped by nearly 55,000 in the second half of last year.

Corbett aides counter with their own estimate of increased costs for the state under a Medicaid expansion, while also contending the health insurance program for the poor is unsustainable.

But as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted in Philadelphia last week, states will have far greater flexibility to customize Medicaid benefits under the ACA. That, as it happens, was a key selling point cited by Florida's governor.

Along with giving a boost to the vital hospital and life-sciences sectors, Corbett needs to expand Medicaid to ensure that everything possible is done to help the state's neediest stay healthy.

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