Corbett dishes out some bad medicine

Posted: December 16, 2013

Perhaps Gov. Corbett's proposed plan for uninsured residents should be called Stressful PA, as the 97-page draft for Healthy Pennsylvania seems designed to induce headaches and sleepless nights.

The Republican governor, no fan of President Obama's Affordable Care Act and up for reelection next year, finally released specifics this month on how he would use billions of federal dollars to provide health care for an estimated 500,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians.

And, boy, is Corbett specific.

The proposal contains 23 - count 'em, 23 - waivers for obtaining coverage, more than any other state and must be approved by the Obama administration.

Sharon Ward, of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said, "They have taken something that was simple and cost-effective and easy to administer, and replaced it with something that is complicated, an administrative nightmare, and ultimately more costly to the taxpayers while offering less health care to the people who need it."

Able-bodied adults would have to prove they are looking for work and regularly report in on their efforts. It's sort of like parole but, you know, for law-abiding citizens.

There would be monthly premiums for individuals earning as little as $5,745 a year, around $13 a month. Three consecutively missed premiums would result in coverage being canceled for the next three months. The plan offers discounts for healthy behavior, a smart idea in concept but an additional hurdle for hopeful participants. It's also unclear whether contraception, which is covered by Medicaid, would continue to be as available to low-income women who can least afford to pay for it. One of the surest ways to keep a family in poverty is additional, unplanned births.

The plan is designed for low-income residents - individuals making up to about $16,000, and no more than $32,500 for a family of four - who frequently have more acute health issues due to inconsistent medical care yet are powerless in negotiating the perilous shoals of government bureaucracy. It's not as though they can hire a lawyer for help. These Pennsylvanians live in virtually every region, with rural counties having the highest percentage.

Heaven knows how the Department of Public Welfare will deal with administering Healthy PA and all its provisions.

Corbett's plan takes the complications, shortcomings, and incompetence of the Affordable Care Act rollout and puts them on steroids. Instead of Too Big to Fail, it's Too Complicated to Succeed.

Which may be precisely the intent. The proposal attempts "to fool people, to get folks to believe the governor is not unsympathetic to taking care of low-income working people," said Philadelphia Democratic State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who believes it will ultimately be rejected by the federal government.

Being too complicated is a common criticism conservatives level at Obamacare. And Corbett's proposal was immediately disdained by the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, the ultraconservative group that is loath to bless any variation of coverage, even one that seems designed to fail.

So, there's a little something in the Corbett plan to displease everyone.

Additionally, Pennsylvanians would not receive coverage until January 2015, a year later than 25 other states including - and this cannot be emphasized enough - all our neighbors, even those with Republican governors. As a low-income resident, it would be healthier to live in West Virginia.

No doubt, health care is complicated, but it takes a certain talent to devise a plan that, as Ward noted, is an administrative nightmare, appears more costly yet offers less health care to low-income residents in need.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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