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Politics & Government

PA Dems Won't Let Medicaid Debate Die

As the budget battle comes to a boil in Harrisburg, the fight over Medicaid expansion is heating up right along side it.  

Lawmakers for the most part are split along party lines with Republicans supporting Gov. Tom Corbett’s decision to not opt into the federal government’s offer, while Democrats are calling for the state to expand the program as soon as possible.

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) has been a strong proponent of Medicaid expansion and said Republicans are using misinformation and biased studies to make their arguments. He instead wants the debate to center on data produced by RAND, the Pennsylvania Economy League and the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office.

“They all say the same thing,” Frankel said. “We are going to insure more people who don’t have coverage, we are going to create jobs, we are going to lower costs to the state and it makes enormous amounts of sense.”

Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford) has been among the most outspoken lawmakers when it comes to rejecting the expansion. He fears the promised federal funding will not materialize, and he is concerned that when the federal money begins to wane in 2020, the state will not be able to absorb the costs.

“When we add nearly a million more people … it is going to be a cost factor that could be in the billions of dollars,” Baker said. “What good does it do if we start a program and then later find out we can’t afford to continue it?”

Baker and Corbett have been pressing federal administrators for more information on exactly how the system would operate in the future. 

“We need maximum flex ability," Baker said. "It has to be fiscally responsible, and it has to be sustainable."

Democrats like Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) are hoping to be able to tie the expansion of Medicaid into the larger budget debate.

The current budget expires June 30, and several votes are expected this week.

It is unclear if Democrats will be successful in adding the Medicaid issues into any of the spending bills.  Opponents say even if the state opts into the expansion this week it will have no impact on the current spending plan because it could not be implemented until the following year.