DN Editorial: Corbett's Medicaid proposal is an unhealthy plan

WHATEVER YOU think, it's not true that the drop-off boxes that Gov. Corbett has set up around the state for people to deliver expired or unused pharmaceuticals is his Plan B for providing health care to low income people.

Although you do have to wonder, given Corbett's apparent contempt for the poor who need health care, whether the thought crossed his mind. ("Let's redistribute those expired meds to poor people: Medicaid problem solved!")

Except the state's Medicaid problem is far from solved.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government encouraged states to expand coverage of Medicaid, and in return, would fund the cost of that expansion fully for the first few years, and 90 percent afterward. Republican governors opposed to health-care reform have rejected this expansion, leaving their most vulnerable citizens out in the cold.

Corbett has sent a proposal to the feds with an alternate plan that he claims would be more cost-effective - subsidizing Medicaid-eligible people to buy coverage directly from the health exchange. But there are so many punitive - and illegal - components of his plan that no one expects it to pass muster.

For one thing, those getting coverage would be required to pay a nominal monthly fee. But for many, $13 to $35 per month is not exactly nominal. For those missing three payments, their coverage would be suspended for three months.

In addition, Corbett has attached a job-search requirement to participation. That has already been rejected by the feds in a similar proposal from Utah. Corbett says that he wants to instill "a sense of personal responsibility into the program." His concern is further reflected that "beneficiaries should have a strong role in their own individual health outcomes - thereby increasing personal responsibility."

The "personal responsibility" line is popular code for many Republican leaders, meant to signal that they brook no handouts from government to poor people - as if living far below the poverty line without health coverage is actually a choice people make over the alternative of a job with decent wages and health coverage.

Does he think that current Medicaid recipients are deliberately jeopardizing their health just to get benefits? If that's the case, we should see a mass exodus of people leaving Pennsylvania for states that have accepted Medicaid expansion.

They wouldn't have to move far, since every state surrounding ours - including New York, New Jersey and Ohio - has accepted expansion that kicks in Jan. 1. Maybe moving isn't a bad idea, since the gap between federal review of Corbett's plan and final resolution will leave hundreds of thousands without any coverage at all. According to Community Legal Services, the actual benefits in Corbett's proposal cut what many Medicaid-qualified people get now.

Public hearings begin Jan. 1 on the plan; the Philadelphia hearing will be Jan. 3 at the National Constitution Center.

Register to speak at dpw.state.pa.us/healthypa.