Legislator: Medicaid expansion as important as Shale

Democratic lawmakers from the state House of Representatives Policy Committee who heard testimony Tuesday at Lycoming College on the expansion of Medicaid said Pennsylvania will lose out on billions of dollars and potential health care jobs if Gov. Tom Corbett rejects the idea.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said the issue of Medicaid expansion, which could insure more than 600,000 Pennsylvanians is just as important to this area as the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry.

Mirabito joined committee chairman Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, and Rep. Michael K. Hanna Sr., D-Lock Haven, along with several other legislators who are on the committee at the hearing, which accepted testimony from local health care providers and residents.

A study released in January by the Pennsylvania Health Law Project and the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health showed rural Pennsylvanians are more likely than their urban counterparts to have more serious health care needs. It also found that rural residents tend to be uninsured for longer periods of time than urban residents.

In Lycoming County, almost 16 percent of the population is covered by Medicaid. In Clinton County, that number is about 16.5 percent, according to the study. Those numbers drop to under 9 percent in urban counties such as Chester, Montgomery and Bucks.

“Whether you agree with Obama or not, the Supreme Court agreed it’s the law of the land,” Sturla said about President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

If Pennsylvania doesn’t accept federal money to offset costs of expanding Medicaid, Sturla said the state would lose $42 billion and thousands of health care jobs that would be created.

Corbett said during his budget address last month that Pennsylvania should not expand Medicaid. But Republican governors in several states have decided to accept expansion.

“We’re not sure why this governor says it doesn’t make sense,” Sturla said of Corbett. “If we don’t take it, Pennsylvania citizens still pay their federal taxes like everybody else.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, people are required to have medical insurance or pay a penalty starting next year. Hanna said those who either don’t have insurance or choose not to pay for it still will be a burden on the health care system – particularly in hospital emergency rooms.

“They’re still going to show up at the hospital, and they can’t turn them away,” he said.