Sen. Hughes wants a vote on Medicaid—and the public is with him

RandyLANDSince Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett openly rejected adding 500,000 Pennsylvanians without health insurance to the state’s Medicaid rolls during his 2013 budget address, state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) has made reversing that decision a front-and-center issue. And yesterday, he issued what’s called a discharge petition to get his bill regarding the health law to a vote.

The Medicaid expansion was a piece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (which you know as Obamacare) the Supreme Court ruled optional by states. It would put individuals making as much as $15,302 per year and families of four at $31,155 per year on the rolls; currently, many of those people make too much for Medicaid but too little to buy health insurance.

Hughes has spent 2013 leading the charge against Tea Party Republicans who claim expanding the program would give the federal government too much power over states. Forty-eight Pennsylvania House Republicans signed a letter urging Corbett to opt out of the program last December. That letter called the Medicaid portion “some of the most financially harmful provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”

“Here you have a situation where folks are saying, look, we will pay for the insurance of maybe three-quarters of a million people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. How do you ignore that deal?” Hughes told PW during a City Hall Medicaid roundtable he organized in January.

He’s additionally noted that accepting the Medicaid funds would bring in an estimated 35,000-40,000 new healthcare jobs and infuse  $4 billion of federal money into the state over the first three years the program runs (the state would kick in 10 percent of funds later on).

With no vote on his Senate Bill 12 — which would require Pennsylvania to accept the federal funds — in sight, Hughes filed a discharge petition yesterday to get it onto the Senate floor. A discharge petition is meant to bring a bill out of committee without cooperation from leadership. A committee can be discharged from consideration of a bill by a majority vote of Senate members 10 days after its introduction. The bill was most recently referred to the Public Health and Welfare Committee on March 26. That committee is chaired by Patricia Vance (R-Cumberland).

Many states have accepted the Medicaid expansion, which will be paid for in part through former Disproportional Share Payment cash, though some states ruled by Republican governors have not accepted those funds. Some have claimed they’re worried that the federal government may not fulfill its guarantee to provide the full funding—and, later, 90 percent of it—which would mean states would be stuck with the bill.

Which Hughes’ bill keeps in mind. There is a provision in SB 12 that says “if the feds walk away from the deal, then we don’t have to provide the program anymore,” he noted to us. And since that problem is dealt with in the bill, one can only imagine the governor’s stance is political.

An independent report released in late April by the state Legislature’s Fiscal Office showed that accepting an increase in Medicaid dollars and patients in the state would add $435 million to state coffers, generated by $215 million in tax revenue from jobs and medical businesses—and about 500,000 newly insured adults and kids in Pennsylvania.

The last poll conducted on the issue shows that state voters favor the expansion of Medicaid. And a recent Franklin and Marshall poll found that while Medicaid expansion is not high on Pennsylvanians’ list of most important issues (7th out of 11), it ranks above liquor and lottery privatization, both of which the governor has taken up this session.

“Clearly, Medicaid expansion is something that Pennsylvania needs to do,” Hughes added in a news release. “If Gov. Corbett is unwilling to do the right thing, my colleagues in the Senate must send a clear message that this is unacceptable. It’s time for a vote on Medicaid expansion.”

Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

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