Pa. Medicaid expansion hits a milestone: 500,000 new enrollees

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Dec 10, 2015 2:09 PM

Governor Tom Wolf announces that 500,000 Pennsylvanians have enrolled in the new expanded Medicaid program in a press conference at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

(Hershey) -- More than 500,000 Pennsylvanians now have health insurance for the first time through the state's Medicaid program.

The news comes 10 months after Governor Tom Wolf loosened eligibility rules.

More than half of the people receiving coverage through the Medicaid expansion are 40 years old or younger, and nearly 60 percent are white.

Governor Wolf made a campaign promise to expand the program, and checked it off his list with a February announcement.

Who benefits?

Speakers at a press conference at Penn State Hershey Medical Center say bus drivers, cleaning people, single parents, and many others who often had to rely on the emergency room if something went wrong.

Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas says Medicaid expansion has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.

"People talk about 500,000. What does 500,000 mean? 500,000 is, back in 2013 we had an uninsured rate in Pennsylvania of 14 percent. That number is now almost cut in half, to 8 percent. Right? That is an amazing thing," says Dallas.

Wolf says everyone should be happy about the news because in the past, private insurance plans had a hidden cost to account for the uninsured.

"Those people when they had problems, if they could, they actually did access our health care systems. But they did it at the most expensive part, typically in the emergency room, and typically late in the disease when some early preventative care maybe or early intervention might have made a difference," he adds.

Dallas and Wolf say they hope the state can enroll as many as 600,000 people.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government picks up the cost of Medicaid expansion until 2017, when a small percentage of the costs start to shift to the state.

Census data shows about eight percent of Pennsylvanians were uninsured in 2014, a 20 percent drop from 2013.

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