Obamacare Can’t Help the Poorest Pennsylvanians but Governor Corbett Can

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is kicking off a multi-day, cross-state event tour today to raise his profile with a year to go until election day. (AP file photo)

Wondering if you will qualify for help to afford coverage through the health insurance marketplace, the signature achievement of the Affordable Care Act? You may be too poor to qualify for premium tax credits!

You read that right. If your income next year is under the poverty line—$11,490 annually for a single person—you are too poor to qualify for marketplace subsidies. There is no provision in the law to provide health insurance subsidies for anyone below the poverty line.  Medicaid was supposed to be your fallback option.

Adults without children and without disabilities don’t qualify for Medicaid at any income. Because they don’t fit into a coverage category, it doesn’t matter how poor they are. President Obama and Congress, with the Affordable Care Act of 2010, intended Medicaid to be the health coverage available to people below the poverty line.

Last year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court made expanding Medicaid a state option.  Nearly half the states in the union, including Pennsylvania, have turned down incredibly generous federal funds that would finance 100 percent of the expansion costs for three years and at least 90 percent thereafter rather than offering a helping hand to their most vulnerable residents.

An estimated 400,000 Pennsylvanians are uninsured and too poor to qualify for marketplace subsidies. To think this group simply needs to get a job is mistaken.  Three out of four uninsured adult Pennsylvanians are working. These are the people who cook and serve our food, clean our offices, cut our lawns, and care for our young children and our aging parents. They are doing the best they can in today’s high-unemployment, low-wage and deeply unequal economy.

Governor Corbett and Pennsylvania’s legislature should do the right thing and expand Medicaid. You shouldn’t be too poor to get help affording health insurance.

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