Affordable Care Act, Health Equity, Health Reform, Medicaid, Pennsylvania

Healthy Pennsylvania? Not exactly.

Tuesday afternoon the nation stood by waiting for Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, to announce that Pennsylvania would opt in to the Medicaid expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act.  The news viewers received instead was something very different.  Corbett made it clear that he was not “expanding Medicaid”, but providing a “common sense” plan to reform the state’s Medicaid program. The plan’s title, Healthy Pennsylvania, is quite the misnomer when one looks at the details.

The Healthy Pennsylvania objectives are threefold: reform Medicaid, increase access, and stabilize financing.  Reforming Medicaid is at the heart of the plan and includes many controversial proposals such as condensing the 14 existing Medicaid benefit plans into two alternative benefit packages; applying a $10 co-payment for “inappropriate” emergency room use; requiring applicants and beneficiaries to comply with work search requirements; and attaching a monthly premium for individuals who have incomes as little as 50% of the federal poverty level.

For the reasons below and others, I do not support Governor Corbett’s Healthy Pennsylvania plan.  It is unlikely that the federal government will approve it as well due to the many provisions presented in the plan that are contrary to the laws and regulations governing the Medicaid program. Instead of taking meaningful action to help improve access to care and health of Pennsylvanians, this proposal will act as a needless delay prohibiting hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians from getting comprehensive, affordable health coverage as set forth by the Affordable Care Act.

Consolidation

While it is true that the Medicaid program in Pennsylvania is complex, it serves a variety of different populations. For example, there is a plan for women who make slightly higher incomes to receive coverage for certain OBGYN services known as the Women’s Select Plan.  Another existing benefit in Pennsylvania is the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD).  This plan provides health coverage for workers with disabilities whose income would otherwise make them ineligible for the traditional Medicaid program in Pennsylvania.  The Governor’s proposal to consolidate the existing Medicaid programs leaves advocates questioning the fate of programs like these that serve specific groups.  Even more troubling is  that in addition to consolidation, the Governor would like the services covered by the plans to reflect that of employer-sponsored coverage.  The traditional Medicaid plan in Pennsylvania offers  coverage for a wide-range of coverage including comprehensive services for mental health and substance use challenges.  If this proposal were implemented it would significantly reduce the scope of services individuals would receive to keep them well.

Expansion

Within the Healthy Pennsylvania plan the Governor does agree to expand Medicaid eligibility for individuals up to 133% of the federal poverty level. He proposes to do this by enrolling those individuals into private health insurance plans on the Marketplace.  While this expansion of eligibility would increase access to some type of health coverage for individuals, it would do so in a way that is more costly and less efficient than enrolling individuals into traditional Medicaid.  The fact is that it is less costly to insure individuals through Medicaid than it does through the private health insurance market.

Cost Containment

In an effort, under the guise of cost savings and promoting personal responsibility, Corbett proposes to mandate several requirements under the Healthy Pennsylvania plan. Among the most controversial is the work search requirement. While the Governor stated that this requirement would only apply to “able bodied” individuals capable of working, his plan does not clearly define how this requirement would be applied and enforced.  Currently, no other states in the nation apply a work requirement to its Medicaid benefit.

Another controversial provision is the premium that individuals will need to pay for coverage. Individuals with incomes as low as 50% of the federal poverty level ($5,745/year) will be asked to pay a premium. The maximum premium an individual will pay will be $25 per month.  While $25 per month does not seem like much money to individuals who have steady incomes, for low-income individuals, it will act as a significant barrier to coverage and care.

One of the more alarming provisions set forth in the plan without any clarification or description is a $10 co-payment for “inappropriate” emergency room usage.  The plan fails to define or describe situations when using the emergency room would be inappropriate as opposed to appropriate.  The plan also fails to explain how this co-payment would be collected or who would be responsible for determining when the co-payment should be imposed on an individual.  Individuals and families who might be experiencing serious medical conditions could delay seeking emergency treatment due to this co-payment.  The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) was enacted to ensure all individuals had access to necessary health services in times of crises regardless of ability to pay.  Enacting a policy such as this can confuse individuals about their right to receive care in these settings.  If implemented this provision will unjustifiably penalize the poor.

The Governor’s plan can be accessed here: http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/healthypa/index.htm.

Comments on the plan can be submitted via email to: RA-PWHealthyPA@pa.gov or by mail to:

Department of Public Welfare,
Office of the Secretary,
Health & Welfare Building,
625 Forster Street,
Harrisburg, PA 17120

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