Harrisburg Dems stump for Medicaid expansion in Philly

Top Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate came to Philly on Tuesday to increase pressure on Gov. Corbett to “opt in” to an expansion of Medicaid offered under the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

Following the release of a report Tuesday that said the state could save hundreds of millions if it opts in, Democratic Leader Jay Costa, of Pittsburgh, and Philly’s Vincent Hughes, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, spoke in City Hall about the fiscal and economic benefits they believe would result from an expansion of Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that serves low-income Americans.

“This administration has the opportunity to make a significant impact on quality of life,” Costa said.

Assuming all states sign up, the expansion would make an additional 17 million poor Americans eligible for Medicaid coverage, according to the White House. A Supreme Court decision last year struck down a part of the law that would have made it more difficult for states to resist the expansion and gave governors the opportunity to opt in or out.

Corbett and other Republican governors who opposed Obamacare have made the expansion a symbol of their disdain. Their ranks have thinned, however, as some GOP guvs, including Chris Christie in New Jersey, have chosen to take advantage of the extra federal funding.

Corbett has said that Medicaid in Pennsylvania is deeply flawed and that he wouldn’t expand it without reforming the existing system.

Still, he may yet accept the expansion. He’s in talks with federal officials, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, about his concerns over the state’s Medicaid program.

The new report, by the General Assembly’s Independent Fiscal Office, said the state budget would see an average $430 million net benefit each year until 2021, when Obamacare is fully phased in. The savings come primarily from transferring recipients of the state’s General Assistance cash benefits, a program Corbett has put in his crosshairs, to Medicaid, the report said.

Separately, the report detailed benefits of the expansion to the Pennsylvania economy that could result in increased tax revenues of $215 million per year, further aiding the state’s bottom line.

Much of the economic boost would come from new jobs in the state’s healthcare industry, a large part of which is in the Philly region.

“The lion’s share of those positions would be created in the southeast part of the state,” Costa said.

Corbett spokeswoman Christine Cronkright questioned the IFO study because it didn’t factor in whether the federal government will change or eliminate its generous matching rate for the state’s gross-receipts tax on managed care organizations.

If that happens, the benefits of a Medicaid expansion as determined by the IFO would be exaggerated, according to the administration.

The study is “built on the assumption that the GRT will continue at the status quo, and we don’t know that that’s the case, and the conversations we’ve had would indicate it may not be,” Cronkright said.