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March 26, 2015
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PA Senators flip-flop on Medicaid expansion; House pulls the plug on health insurance for 500,000

Governor Tom Corbett
Contributed photo

HARRISBURG, PA — If Pennsylvania politicians were to accept Medicaid expansion as part of the national Affordable Care Act, which is also known as Obamacare, more than half a million Pennsylvania residents who currently have no health insurance would receive it, and according to the Independent Fiscal Office, the state would save $154 million each year.

Governor Tom Corbett has said he has not made a decision on the matter because in his view it is fiscally unsustainable, even though for the first three years the federal government would pick up 100% of the cost, and thereafter no less than 95%, leaving the state paying no more than 5% of the cost.

It looked for a while that through the budget process, lawmakers were going to force the governor to accept the program. On June 28, the Senate voted with a bipartisan majority of 40 to 10 to include expanded Medicaid as part of the budget process. But two days later, the House took the language out of the legislation and sent it back to the Senate.

According to a press release from Senate Democrats, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai indicated that Senate Republicans knew about the House Republicans’ plans to remove the language from the legislation and agreed to go along with it.

Democratic Leader Senator Jay Costa and Democratic Appropriations Chair Senator Vincent J. Hughes went so far as to say they did not believe their Republican colleagues would behave that way. They wrote, “We have the utmost respect for Sen. Pileggi and Sen. Pat Vance and do not believe they would have acted disingenuously and participated in a ruse. We do not believe Republican leadership would abuse the legislative process or the integrity of the Senate by advancing a measure which they knew would fail.”

The next day on July 3, however, they changed their tune entirely as they criticized Republican senators, this time for voting against the expansion.

Hughes wrote, “I’m deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans voted against putting Medicaid expansion language back in House Bill 1075… The collective will of the Senate is clearly being ignored. I cannot understand why my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle voted overwhelmingly for Medicaid expansion just a few days ago but today failed to back up that vote with action.”

Setbacks for Corbett

Corbett got his way on the question of expanded Medicaid, but on other issues he was not so successful. He hoped to have legislation in place by the end of June that would have privatized the spirits industry in the state, doing away with the decades-old state store system. But the House and the Senate proposed different versions of the legislation. The House would have the state stores completely eliminated, while the Senate would have the state stores remain and compete with private stores. Supporters of privatization say they will take up the matter again in the fall when lawmakers return from their summer break.

Another important agenda item for Corbett was a transportation bill to help pay to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure, but that too failed to materialize. The suggested way of raising the necessary revenue is to lift the cap on the tax on the wholesale price of gas, and many members of the Republican-controlled legislature are opposed to that sort of tax increase.