With the deadline at midnight tonight to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a small band of the uninsured returned to Harrisburg today to remind lawmakers that there are still as many as half a million Pennsylvanians - many of whom hold jobs - who will see no benefits on April 1.
These are the working poor, locked the so-called "Medigap" because they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid. but who do not make enough to qualify for the health insurance plans under the exchange system.
Andre Butler, a banquet server from Philadelphia, and others camped out in the Capitol last spring to call on Gov. Corbett to expand Medicaid as neighboring states did,
They returned with a similar message.
"We are the island of the uninsured," said Butler at a news conference, sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). "Making a low wage should not be a penalty against you."
Rather than accept Medicaid expansion to cover the uninsured, Corbett has asked the federal government to approve a Pennsylvania-specific plan which contained several controversial provisions including a work requirement and monthly premiums for some.
But Corbett in recent weeks backed away from the mandatory work requirement for the able bodied and said premiums would be phased in.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) who led an effort in the Senate to pass Medicaid expansion last spring, said he will fight to include Medicaid expansion as part of this year's budget talks.
"We are not giving up the fight to bring high quality, low cost health insurance to thousands of people in Pennsylvania who deserve it," he said.
Hughes said since several of the governor's budget-balancing proposals are off to a rocky start (small games of chance) or non-existent (liquor privatization), Medicaid should be a topic of conversation because it will bring in hundreds of millions in federal dollars.
Corbett's plan, known as "Healthy PA," would not take effect until Jan. 1, one year after coverage began in most of the 25 states that have opted to accept federal money to expand Medicaid.
The delay means Pennsylvania will lose out on as much as $1 billion in federal payments it would have received in the first year and additional funding through 2016, had the state started offering coverage in January.
Corbett said in his letter to Health and Humane Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius this month, that he tailored his plan to help "determine best practices and success rates" in moving people from public health insurance to private plans "through gainful employment."
Children, the elderly, pregnant women and disabled people would be exempt from the work search pilot program.
Butler despite chronic back pain among other ailments, doesn't need or want a work exemption; he just wants to be able to see a doctor regularly.
He says he works between zero and 30 hours a week making between $8.50 and $9.50 an hour and doesn't want to rely on emergency room visits for care. "With Medicaid I'd be fine," he said.
Guy Anthony, a former aerospace manufacturing plant worker, and another advocate who camped out in the Capitol last year said he was fortunate enough to qualify for low-cost coverage under Obamacare.
Since January he's been paying $89 a month to receive his first health coverage since his plant closed in 2002 and he lost fulltime work.
Anthony, 61, said being able to get prescriptions and blood work and visit the doctor regular doctor regularly has helped reduce the high blood pressure that led to congestive heart failure four years ago.
His alternative plan, he said, was to hope he survived until he was 65 and qualified for Medicare.
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