Inquirer Editorial: Expanding Medicaid is the smart thing to do

GOP Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer holds up the Medicaid expansion she signed last week.
GOP Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer holds up the Medicaid expansion she signed last week. (MATT YORK / AP)
Posted: June 24, 2013

From New York to New Mexico, and Oregon to Alabama, state officials with diverse political outlooks are reaching the same conclusion: Expanding Medicaid under Obamacare is simply too good an idea to pass up. Not only that, it's a smart, compassionate public-health policy.

But a still-reluctant Gov. Corbett and the Republican-controlled General Assembly continue to stall on Pennsylvania's adding more of its working poor to the health-insurance program.

Unless they make a decision before the state budget process concludes this month, Corbett and company likely will stand by as Gov. Christie and other GOP governors start to reap billions in new federal aid for their states next year. They will miss out on funds that could put health coverage within reach of up to 600,000 Pennsylvanians now uninsured.

Corbett has moved a step off his longtime refusal to opt in on Medicaid, raising the prospect that he might seek Washington's OK to use federal funds to subsidize private health plans for the uninsured. Meanwhile, the governor's assertion that the state might not be able to afford its share of the expansion's cost looks more and more like an ideological straitjacket in the face of one expert study after another.

Those studies show that, in addition to covering the uninsured - most of whom come from families with a full-time worker, and who include 47,000 veterans - the expansion, funded entirely with federal tax dollars for the first three years, would create 35,000 to 45,000 new jobs that have an average salary of $52,000. Those jobs would generate income and sales-tax revenue to more than cover the state's outlay.

Corbett's insistence on playing endless rounds of 20 Questions with federal health officials over the Affordable Care Act - President Obama's signature legislation, which Corbett sought to scuttle in court - is starting to run out the clock. To take full advantage of the federal aid, the state must appropriate its share of funding in its next budget. But state House leaders passed their proposed spending plan more than a week ago, and it doesn't include a Medicaid expansion.

No wonder a sense of alarm is growing among hospital executives whose federal charity-care subsidies will be trimmed to help pay for Obamacare. That ACA provision anticipated thousands of newly insured customers for hospitals and other health-care providers. But without the Medicaid expansion, those uninsured patients will continue showing up at hospital emergency rooms.

An announcement Thursday that expanding Medicaid will be put to a vote this week during the state Senate's budget deliberations offers the first sign of hope that state lawmakers will prevail in getting Corbett to expand Medicaid. More critical than boosting the state's economy, taking that step will help to assure that thousands of the legislators' neediest constituents remain healthy.

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