Corbett sees hope in approval of Arkansas coverage plan

Posted: October 02, 2013

HARRISBURG Corbett administration officials expressed hope Monday that the federal government's approval of Arkansas' unique plan to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents was a positive sign that a similar Pennsylvania plan also would pass federal muster.

The Department of Health and Human Services late last week signed off on Arkansas' proposal to provide health insurance coverage to 200,000 lower-income residents by using Medicaid dollars for private insurance.

Gov. Corbett had announced 10 days earlier that he would seek a similar route to providing health coverage for more than a half-million uninsured residents of Pennsylvania, but he has yet to submit a formal waiver seeking approval.

"We're encouraged by the HHS approval of the Arkansas plan and hope that's an indication the federal government is willing to work more closely for solutions that will work for us rather than a one-size-fits-all approach," said Corbett spokeswoman Christine Cronkright.

Rather than enrolling recipients in the Medicaid program, as other states are doing, Arkansas will direct them to the health insurance marketplace, where they would use federal money to purchase individual premiums.

Corbett's proposal generally follows that model, but it adds certain requirements such as a monthly premium and a job-search mandate.

Corbett said his plan aimed at reducing costs and streamlining services while offering greater access to those who need medical care.

At its core the subject is fraught with politics. Conservative Republicans pressured Corbett to reject Medicaid funding outright as other Republican governors have done, while moderate Republicans and Democrats urged him to move forward with straight Medicaid expansion and take full advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in the first year alone.

Twenty-five states are moving forward with Medicaid expansion, which begins Jan. 1, while Iowa and Ohio also are considering pursuing the Arkansas model.

The unknown timetable is an issue for Pennsylvania health care advocates.

Arkansas began conversations with federal officials at least 10 months ago, while Corbett has offered no details on when he expects his plan to begin.

Advocates fear that with negotiations with the federal government only just getting underway, hundreds of thousands of people - many of them working poor - will go another year without health coverage.

"Although we believe Gov. Corbett's Healthy Pennsylvania plan may be a step in the right direction, it is unclear if or when the state will gain approval for this initiative," said Neal Bisno, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare PA. "Any delay is too long for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who need access to affordable health care coverage today."

Bisno called the first-ever work search requirement "an obstacle to coverage."

Corbett has said requiring unemployed, able-bodied adults to look for a job in order to receive benefits is reasonable.

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