HARRISBURG - Legislation to expand Medicaid health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians under the Affordable Care Act will get a vote in the Senate next week as part of the state budget, the chamber's Republican leadership said Thursday.
"Discussions have been taking place for months on this issue," said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware). "There is no agreement [on the bill] at this point, although those conversations will continue."
Arneson said Pileggi expected an amendment expanding Medicaid to be included in the Welfare Code bill that must be passed in conjunction with the annual budget.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.), the Medicaid bill's sponsor, said word of the vote made him optimistic as he heads into weekend talks. "It's a big movement," he said.
Hughes said Medicaid expansion could help solve a seemingly unrelated crisis: funding for public schools in Philadelphia and other financially distressed districts. He said some of the $154 million the state spends on Medicaid coverage could be applied instead to education.
But Gov. Corbett and GOP House leaders remain concerned about costs of the program that would be shouldered by the state in future years.
Corbett "has been clear he wants to increase access to affordable, quality health care, but that we must look at instituting some material reforms before we consider expansion," spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said.
Three independent studies have concluded that Medicaid expansion would mean a net gain for Pennsylvania: billions in federal aid, reduction in the cost of uncompensated care in hospitals, the creation of thousands of jobs, and health coverage for as many as 600,000 now-uninsured Pennsylvanians.
Under the program, the federal government covers 100 percent of the costs for the first three years and 90 percent after that.
Roughly half the states have notified the federal government they will participate in the expansion.
State House Republican leaders said there was little appetite for Medicaid expansion in that chamber, though passage of the Welfare Code is essential to completing the annual budget process.
"It's clear there are way too many unanswered questions," said spokesman Steve Miskin. "There's no faith that we can rely on the federal government to fulfill its funding commitment."
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned that not opting in would mean many working poor would remain uninsured.
"They will be left in the dark with no sources of health care," said Paul Dioguardi, director of the HHS's Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs.
"That includes childless adults, that is, older adults not yet eligible for Medicare, and young people, and hospitals will see uncompensated care increase," he said.
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