Corbett offers answers, also raises questions

Posted: September 19, 2013

GOV. CORBETT, who hasn't had a positive news story since maybe Inauguration Day, is getting better coverage this week than at any time since taking office.

It's not that his "Healthy Pennsylvania" plan, announced Monday and the topic of a three-day tour ending this afternoon at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine at Penn, is the best thing since penicillin.

It isn't.

It's a blended political potion, part free-market, part big-government, and questionably curative.

But the attention he and his plan are getting stems from the fact that at last he's offering something aimed at better health care for those in need.

This comes after suing, as state attorney general, to kill ObamaCare in 2010.

It comes after ending a health-insurance plan for low-income working adults ("adultBasic") in 2011.

It comes after refusing to accept federal money for expanded Medicaid beginning in January 2014.

So it comes after years of looking like a "decrease the surplus population" Scrooge.

Yep. Now the governor wants to get more people more health care.

But . . .

He first wants "commonsense reform."

We know this because he used that phrase three times in a three-page, three-paragraph speech announcing the plan.

His stated goal: "All Pennsylvanians should have access to quality and affordable health care."

To that end, he'd now accept billions in federal dough under the umbrella of hated ObamaCare if the feds agree to his rules.

Those rules include involving private insurers, monthly premiums, work requirements, a restructuring of benefits, even a $10 ER tax for "inappropriate use" of an emergency room - though I'm sure it's not a tax; it's a user/abuse fee.

The politics are all over the map.

Some of the many Democrats seeking to run against Corbett next year tagged his plan as an unworkable political gimmick certain to delay any Medicaid expansion until at least 2015.

But legislative Democrats not running for governor expressed some interest.

Senate Democrats issued a statement saying they "welcome the discussion."

Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel, sponsor of legislation requiring Medicaid expansion in the state, called the proposal "encouraging."

Republicans are split (as usual) according to their closeness to the far-right.

GOP Senate Leader Dominic Pileggi said he supports "the goals" of the plan and looks forward to working to achieve them.

Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe called the proposal "just an expansion of the welfare state."

Corbett said it costs $19 billion in state and federal money for Pennsylvania to provide Medicaid to 2 million-plus people.

So this is a big deal. And some of his plan makes sense.

He argues that state coverage is too generous, far exceeding national standards. He wants health coverage provided by taxpayers to the needy to look more like health coverage provided to taxpayers by employers.

More clinics, fewer ER visits also makes sense.

But feeding tax dollars to private insurers, requiring proof-of-job searches and adding premiums for some recipients could prove problematic in getting federal approval, and could slow or kill the whole proposal.

There's also a gaping absence of specificity.

When asked how much federal money the state might get under his plan, Corbett had no answer.

When asked how soon his plan could be in place, Corbett said, "I don't have a timetable."

When asked if there's a Plan B should Washington reject the proposal, Corbett said, "I'm not going to answer that question."

Such vagueness is enough to encourage thoughts that all this is intended to get the governor through an election year without a real resolution to Medicaid issues, for which he can then blame Washington.

But at least this week, he's created a sense of action, an aura of engagement that's mostly been missing throughout his tenure.




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