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Corbett's Medicaid Expansion Plan Gets Mixed Reception at Phila. Hearings

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) --The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare today held two public hearings in Philadelphia focusing on Gov. Tom Corbett's controversial proposal for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Nearly 90 people signed up to provide testimony concerning the Corbett plan, dubbed Healthy Pennsylvania, at the National Constitution Center.

The plan includes major Medicaid reforms designed to reduce costs to the state, including monthly premiums for adults, work-search requirements, and caps on the number of medical visits and tests that can be performed.

"It doesn't solve every problem that needs to be addressed around health care, but it's a beginning," said Pennsylvania welfare secretary Beverly Mackereth.

She says Medicaid is roughly 75 percent of her agency's budget, costing $20 billion in state and federal funds every year.   Mackereth says annual growth of the plan is in the hundreds of millions, and is not sustainable in the long term, even with federal dollars provided by the Affordable Care Act.

"There's some really tough decisions that have to be made," she said today.

But Richard Weishaupt, of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, disagrees.

"Our health care system could be made more efficient and cost effective, but this is not the way to do it," he told the panel.  "What we should be thinking about is increasing opportunities for preventative care -- not limits on doctors visits."

Many of the health care advocates testifying today called for a traditional expansion under the ACA, without the separation of patients into high- and low-risk plans, or premiums amd penalties for failing to adhere to various requirements.

"Premiums and work-search requirements penalize Pennsylvanians for being poor," one advocate testified.

And Arthur Evans, Philadelphia commissioner of behavioral health, argued that Gov. Corbett's proposed reforms won't save money.

"The Medicaid reforms proposed, I believe, will result in higher costs because of restrictions on access," he testified.

But "Healthy Pennsylvania" did have some supporters.

"It will provide more than a half a million Pennsylvanians with access to quality heath care that they currently lack," said Stuart Shapiro, MD, head of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.   "If we all don't all get behind this proposal, it's going to be at least 18 months before these 500,000 people get health insurance.   Let's fix it, not nix it."

The two hearings in Philadelphia are among seven being held across the Commonwealth.  Once hearings are completed this month, Pennsylvania will submit its formal proposal for an Obamacare waiver to the federal government.  If accepted, the governor's plan would go into effect in 2015.


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