State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

PA's Medicaid enrollees could see benefit cuts

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 2, 2014 7:29 PM
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Policy analysts are staying tuned for additional changes to benefits for current Medicaid enrollees in Pennsylvania.

Federal officials set aside Governor Corbett's proposal to curb Medicaid benefits when they considered his overall plan to expand health care coverage for the working poor by using private insurance plans. But the changes still under negotiation could limit things like wheelchairs, home care visits, and physical therapy for Medicaid enrollees.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said federal law for Medicaid allows great flexibility to match subsidized benefits to commercial plans.

"So it looks like he's going to try to bring down the benefit package for your current very low-income parents to the stingiest level in the country," Alker said of Corbett.

The federal government approved Corbett's alternative Medicaid expansion plan last week. His office touted it as a triumph of entitlement reform. But few of the proposals pushed by the administration were granted. Alker said the final waiver shows the Corbett administration was serious about expanding Medicaid coverage.

"In general, there were a lot of key issues that the governor did compromise on," she said. The most touted element of the waiver was the plan to use federal money to subsidize private insurance coverage plans. But Alker said such a system isn't largely different from Pennsylvania's existing Medicaid program, which already provides coverage using private plans.

"The governor didn't even need a waiver to contract with managed care companies to deliver the services," Alker said. "That's sort of rhetorical sleight of the hand, frankly."

The expansion establishes mandatory premiums for higher-income earners receiving the health care benefit, but administration officials point out that recipients can get discounts by participating in job search or job training activities, or going to regular check-ups.

Alker said such a provision has been approved in other states' Medicaid waivers, but she said it's a problem for states looking to expand coverage to as many people as possible.

"We have a lot of research to suggest that when low income people are required to pay premiums, it will depress enrollment," Alker said. "There's no question about that."

Published in State House Sound Bites

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