And that’s going to change January 1st, 2014, unless state lawmakers and Governor Corbett get in the way.
What’s the deal?
Right now, as you probably know if you’ve ever been unemployed, worked at a job that doesn’t come with benefits, or had a loved one in either of these situations, you know it’s extremely hard if not impossible to qualify for Medicaid. In Pennsylvania, you can’t just be going through a financial rough patch to qualify — you have to be very low-income, have young children, have a serious to disabling health condition, or be a senior citizen. That leaves a ton of folks — hundreds of thousands, actually — shut out, and shut off from accessing affordable health insurance, and the care that comes with it.
Many of these folks were helped by adultBasic, an affordable coverage option for working Pennsylvanians that didn’t turn folks away over pre-existing health conditions. Governor Corbett chose to cut off this lifeline in 2011, ripping coverage from 41,000 folks and leaving the 500,000 on the waiting list with no hope of getting affordable coverage any time soon.
This is one of (the many) problems the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare — because hey, he does care!) set out to address: how to make sure folks at the lower end of the income ladder had some security and stability when it came to their health. To do this, the law set aside billions of dollars for each state to extend coverage by making it easier and simpler to qualify for Medicaid. In 2014, anyone earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level ($15,900/year for an individual or $32,400 for a family of 4) can get covered under Medicaid. The federal government covers 100% of the cost to cover these new folks in the first 3 years, which gradually ticks down to 90% thereafter. Authors of the law didn’t intend for this to be optional; they authorized funding for each state and they expected each state to take it. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court had other ideas and ruled states should retain the “choice” to take the new funds and expand coverage or not.
Already, six states run by Republican Governors (some very, very right-wing ones who haven’t shied away from pushing extremely ideological agendas on a number of issues, from unions to education to immigration) have said yes to this great deal:
Rick Snyder, Michigan: “This makes sense for the physical and fiscal health of Michigan.”
John Kasich, Ohio: “While a complex decision, this reform not only helps improve the health of vulnerable Ohioans and frees up local funds for better mental health and addiction services, but it also helps prevent increases to health care premiums and potentially devastating impacts to local hospitals. Additionally, it avoids leaving Ohioans’ federal tax dollars on the table and keeps the federal government from simply giving them away to other states.”
Jan Brewer, Arizona: “With this move, we will secure a federal revenue stream to cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms.”
At least on this one issue, those Governors are right. Taking the funds set aside for states to expand coverage makes sense for taxpayers, for families, for working people, and for our economy.
How much good could taking this deal do in Pennsylvania? Lots:
If the state legislature makes the smart choice to take this new funding to extend coverage and create jobs, in the years between 2013 – 2022, we would:
Bring in $43 billion into Pennsylvania’s economy over the next 10 years — money that will:
- stimulate economic activity in big cities and small towns across the state as hospitals, medical supply firms, and other related industries hire new workers to meet the new demand (and as those workers go back into their own communities to shop and dine in their Main Street businesses);
- save Pennsylvania taxpayers the millions of dollars we spend each year treating folks in emergency rooms who are uninsured when they’re in the worst shape and can’t afford to pay; and
- build a healthy workforce and a healthier population, saving businesses and our health care system in the long run as folks can access preventive care and avoid costly and damaging chronic illnesses (prevention saves lives and money!)
Bring real security to the 600,000 – 800,000 Pennsylvanians who will finally have affordable, stable, quality health coverage. If you lose your job, health care will be there for you as you get back on your feet. No more risking it going uninsured, no more putting off something you know you should be getting checked out for fear that it’s something you can’t afford to have treated — coverage will be there for you, no matter what you make.
Build our health care infrastructure and keep our state’s hospitals (one of the biggest economic drivers in the state) strong by:
- helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the health care industry; and
- making sure hospitals and health care providers can “staff up” to meet the demand as more folks are finally able to afford their services and seek out care on a regular basis.
Save state taxpayers the money we’re spending in a patchwork, inefficient way right now on health care:
- by covering hundreds of thousands of uninsured people, Pennsylvania will save $878 million in “uncompensated care” costs — the money we spend to pay for care in emergency rooms — over the next 10 years;
- by replacing the fully-state-funded health programs we currently have in Pennsylvania that provide some level of care for certain groups with full, federally-funded Medicaid coverage for anyone below 138% of the poverty level.
- Get a fantastic return on investment: Pennsylvania will get back $13 in federal funds for every $1 our state invests in extending coverage.
We also have a lot to lose if lawmakers take Governor Corbett’s lead and choose to reject these new funds and leave all that money (and this great opportunity) on the table. If we turn down this deal:
- Nearly 500,000 working Pennsylvanians will remain uninsured and unable to find affordable coverage;
- Pennsylvania’s hospitals will face a dire financial crisis as they’re set to lose the bulk of the money they had been receiving from the federal government to provide care to the uninsured (this was done assuming all states would expand coverage and hospitals would have much less of a burden paying for care for the uninsured).
- Hospitals will be forced to lay off workers and do more with less, potentially jeopardizing patients and hurting local economies.
- Jobs and growth will travel to the states that are extending coverage and making the investment in the health of their people, while folks in Pennsylvania will be left behind.
Fired up yet? You should be! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we absolutely cannot allow Governor Corbett and the legislature to sacrifice our health and economic security as working people to please their ideologically-driven backers who oppose this, and every other piece of the Affordable Care Act.
We’ll be doing just that this Tuesday, Feb. 12th with a campaign kickoff and lobby day at the Capitol and we’d love to have you there with us. We’ve got buses coming from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and we’re ready to deliver a powerful message to our lawmakers.
Sign up here to join us!
- Central PA folks: to meet with your legislators http://bit.ly/LobbyTeam or to just attend the 1pm press conference in the Lower Rotunda http://bit.ly/JoinUsInHBG.
- Western PA folks: http://bit.ly/PGHGetontheBus
- Eastern PA folks: http://bit.ly/PhillyGetontheBus
If you can’t make it on Tuesday, you can still make a big difference by:
- Signing on in support of the Cover the Commonwealth campaign (http://bit.ly/CovertheCommonwealth) and getting involved in our advocacy efforts.
- Signing the petition telling Governor Corbett and the Legislature to Take the Deal! (http://bit.ly/TaketheDeal).
Erin Ninehouser, Education & Outreach Coordinator, Pennsylvania Health Access Network