Gov. Tom Corbett's February budget address kicked off what may be a troubled re-election campaign. His approval ratings have hit an all-time low, dipping to 26 percent in a recent Franklin & Marshall poll. (And if this sounds familiar, you’re right: I frequently have the pleasure of writing, “Corbett’s approval ratings have hit an all-time low,” because they frequently do.) Now, they have attracted a high-profile 2014 opponent in U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
Corbett is thus making a heroic effort to seem like something other than the austerity-worshipping agent of natural-gas companies that his enemies portray him to be. Notably, he has proposed boosting school funding. But that is contingent on privatizing liquor sales and weakening pensions, making it look less like a serious proposal and more like a bargaining chip in his fight against organized labor.
The superficiality of Corbett’s newfound moderation is nowhere more evident than in his rejection of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion to an estimated 613,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians who are not poor enough to qualify for the current program. The decision places Corbett firmly on his party’s right wing; Republican governors from Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and Ohio are all participating in the expansion.
Corbett complains about cost: Though the federal government will cover 100 percent of the bill for the first three years, that support will eventually drop to 90 percent. He contends expansion would cost the state nearly $1 billion through 2016, and he is demanding that Washington “start granting states true flexibility to successfully reform” their Medicaid programs. Corbett has already used his “flexibility” to decimate the state-level health-care safety net, eliminating adultBasic, which insured 41,000 people, kicking nearly 90,000 children off Medicaid, and quietly cutting nearly 55,000 people from state Medical Assistance by way of the elimination of General Assistance and the imposition of new work requirements and complicated paperwork.
But it’s not clear that expanding Medicaid would ultimately cost the state money. Pennsylvania hospitals expect that forgoing the expansion will cost them $7 billion over the next decade. The Pennsylvania Health Law Project estimates the expansion could save the state $400 million per year.
Thanks to Corbett, 613,000 Pennsylvanians are at risk of untreated illnesses or medical bankruptcy. He still has time to change his mind. If he doesn’t, Pennsylvanians may change theirs in 2014.
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