Pennsylvania’s GOP Governor Accepts Medicaid Expansion

September 16, 2013 1:15 p.m.

Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced Monday that he would agree to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, adding his state to the short but growing list of GOP-controlled states that have signed onto one of the law’s key provisions.

Corbett’s acceptance comes with a few caveats. He wants to use Medicaid money to purchase private health coverage for low-income people on the law’s health insurance marketplaces rather than enroll them in traditional Medicaid, a concept first introduced by Arkansas earlier this year. He also wants to require that Medicaid enrollees meet work-search requirements to receive benefits and pay small monthly premiums.

“The goal is very simple: All Pennsylvanians should have access to quality, affordable health care,” Corbett said at a press conference announcing his plan. “Today I will be sending a formal proposal to the Obama administration, a Pennsylvania plan, based on common sense, common-sense reforms to our Medicaid program to make it sustainable now and in the future.”

The expansion would cover up to 520,000 Pennsylvanians. Corbett consistently said he wouldn’t accept the expansion without reforming Medicaid as a whole. His plan therefore includes several reforms, such as the work-search requirement and proposed premiums (capped at $25 a month for individuals, $35 for families), as well as a simplified benefits structure.

Because Corbett isn’t proposing a straight expansion of Medicaid, his plan must be approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In previous guidance, HHS has said alternative Medicaid expansion plans must have roughly the same costs to enrollees as the regular Medicaid program.

The department has not yet approved the alternative expansion plans put forward by Arkansas and Iowa.

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“We are encouraged by Pennsylvania’s commitment to helping cover more of the state’s uninsured population. As we have done with other states, we are eager to work with Pennsylvania to provide the best options that work for Pennsylvanians,” HHS spokeswoman Emma Sandoe said in a statement to TPM. “HHS is committed to supporting state flexibility and working with states to design Medicaid programs that work for them, within the confines of the law.”

HHS has not yet formally received Pennsylvania’s proposal.

If the plan is ultimately approved, Pennsylvania would be the largest Republican-controlled state to sign onto the president’s health care law. Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill Monday authorizing Medicaid expansion in his state, covering more than 300,000 people. Proposals are also still alive in Republican-controlled Ohio and Virginia.

Earlier this year, Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer pushed an expansion bill through her GOP-controlled state legislature, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie agreed to expand the program under pressure from his Democratic-majority state legislature.

More than 20 states, almost all controlled by the GOP, have turned down the expansion, which was made optional by the U.S. Supreme Court last year in its ruling on Obamacare.

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