Inquirer Editorial: A welcome compromise on Medicaid expansion

Gov. Christie is a fine role model for his counterpart across the river.
Gov. Christie is a fine role model for his counterpart across the river. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 08, 2013

What first-term governor would welcome a legacy of letting thousands of low-income adults and children slip through widening holes in his state's health-care safety net?

Gov. Corbett may be coming around to the realization that his track record in this area isn't likely to win many points with Pennsylvania voters around reelection time next year.

Because of Corbett's austere spending policies, 41,000 working-poor adults lost access to adultBasic, the low-cost state health plan, almost as soon as he took the oath of office in early 2011. That was followed by the deeply troubling jettisoning of 93,000 children from the joint state-federal Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid.

So the governor's announcement last week that he might after all agree to a federal expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare comes as a welcome softening of his refusal to accept billions in federal aid to add some 600,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians to the Medicaid rolls.

Along with several other Republican governors, Corbett said he is exploring whether the state can use the Obamacare aid to subsidize private coverage for hundreds of thousands of adults. That, in turn, could help insure more children, given that parents with insurance are more likely to get their kids covered.

Corbett contends that he is refusing to expand Medicaid because he is concerned that the state would be overburdened by medical costs - not because he wants to take a rearguard ideological swipe at President Obama's landmark Affordable Care Act, which the governor fought in court.

But in several states, governors who were once just as averse to Obamacare - including New Jersey's Gov. Christie - have concluded that they should accept the optional Medicaid expansion as a matter of dollars and good sense. Christie said it could "actually save money" for taxpayers, even with the state picking up 10 percent of the tab in later years.

Study after study, meanwhile, has concluded that the massive infusion of federal aid would boost the economy - creating at least 35,000 jobs in the Keystone State, for example - while covering several hundred thousand of the currently uninsured.

While Corbett hopes his private-insurance plan will avoid new costs to the commonwealth, he may find that it faces numerous bureaucratic hurdles. Beyond that, the higher cost of private plans means fewer low-income adults would be covered.

So while the governor is moving in the right direction, it would be better if he came around to a full-blown Medicaid expansion. That's certainly the best means of aiding the state's uninsured, and it just might burnish Corbett's legacy.

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