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Politics & Government

PA Senate Dems Push Medicaid Expansion with Procedural Maneuver

State Senate Democrats are trying to compel the state to participate in a Medicaid expansion by using what's called a discharge resolution.

Senate staffers on both sides of the aisle are at a loss to remember the last time this kind of maneuver was successful. It doesn't preclude the majority party from sidestepping a vote on the measure in question.

But that's not stopping Sen. Vincent Hughes.

The Philadelphia Democrat is by far the most outspoken member of his caucus on the issue of Medicaid expansion. He proposed a bill months ago that would force the state to allow hundreds of thousands more low-income Pennsylvanians to enroll in the program by widening eligibility standards. That bill has sat in committee since late March.

Hughes said he's tired of waiting for action. The discharge resolution would, at the very least, prompt the committee to act on the proposal in some fashion. But, the way the resolution works, by late June, Hughes' bill could be sent to the full Senate for consideration.

"If folks are still hesitant by June 24 — 'Well I don't know, I'm not sure' — then there will have to be some kind of legislative action on this issue," Hughes said. "A vote to table is a vote against the issue. Either you're for it or agin' it."

The Medicaid expansion issue has been handled gingerly by Senate Republicans. Many of them are publicly deferring to the governor's office, which is still trying to nail down the costs of potentially bringing hundreds of thousands more Pennsylvanians into Medicaid.

Some say Hughes' move here is less about forcing a vote and more about having a reason to talk about the issue.

"(T)he majority party can use any number of procedural moves to handle it, such as referring the bill to a different committee," said Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson.

Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), chairwoman of the relevant committee — the one Hughes accuses of inaction — said she's never been asked to schedule the Medicaid expansion proposal for a vote. She was surprised to hear about the discharge resolution.

"Anyone who wants a bill moved in committee usually says to the chairman, 'Are you planning to move the bill? We request that you move the bill,'" Vance said. "But that's just a minor technicality."

Hughes said if his bill is tabled or otherwise ignored — by committee or the full Senate — he'll take it as a vote against Medicaid expansion.

The Corbett administration hasn't given a final answer on the issue but suggests Medicaid expansion would be too costly for the commonwealth and couldn't realistically go into effect until 2015.