By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — In a wood-paneled meeting room surrounded by oil paintings of lawmakers who had served before him, Democratic Sen. Richard Kasunic made an impassioned but futile plea for Medicaid expansion on Wednesday.
“Time and again we have the opportunity to do something good and we fail,” Kasunic of Somerset County said in a meeting of the Senate rules committee. “We should challenge those who say, ‘No.’ We should dare (the governor) to veto it.”
His plea fell on deaf ears. The Senate on Wednesday voted 27-22 to concur with the House and move the Welfare Code absent the expansion timeline inserted into it by the Senate just three days earlier.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester County, said that there will be time to fight about Medicaid when lawmakers return in the fall. For now, the House’s move to strip language about Medicaid expansion from the Welfare Code will stand.
There is just too much at stake to hold the Welfare Code hostage while lawmakers squabble over Medicaid expansion, Pileggi said.
“We are at an impasse” with the House and Gov. Tom Corbett, Pileggi said.
The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare, would provide new federal funds to extend health care coverage under Medicaid to more than 500,000 working Pennsylvanians. It is a move that advocates say will save state taxpayers billions of dollars over the next decade and create 40,000 new jobs. Opponents have questioned the wisdom of adding more people to Medicaid, a system that is already strained. At the ceremony where he signed the budget, Corbett said that he does not support expansion without significant reforms.
Twenty-nine states have indicated they will expand Medicaid. Fifteen states are passing on expansion. With the Senate and the House at odds on the issue, Pennsylvania remains one of just six states that are still sitting on the fence.
The provisions originally added by the Senate essentially summarized many of the reforms the governor has publicly indicated he is seeking.
n Continued use of Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, enacted in 1992 and provides health insurance to children and teens;
n Focus on reducing waste, fraud and abuse;
n And employment and job search requirements for those physically able.
The amendment also noted Pennsylvania would abandon Medicaid expansion if the federal government stopped paying for it at the levels promised.
Pileggi said that because of the standoff with in the Republican-controlled House, if the Senate didn’t concur with the House version of the Welfare Code, it would put “hundreds of millions” of dollars at risk.
It was a sentiment repeated by Secretary of Public Welfare Beverley Mackereth before the Senate even took up the issue on Wednesday.
“Failure of the General Assembly to pass a welfare code bill in a timely manner will put millions of Pennsylvanians at risk,” she said.
“The entire health care system will be affected, and existing services for older adults, children and people with disabilities will be sacrificed without the revenue included as part of the bill.”
The Senate’s abrupt reversal was a victory for conservative lawmakers in the House who had vowed to prevent Medicaid expansion in the commonwealth.
Early Saturday, the Senate had voted 40-10 to include provisions spelling out how the state could expand Medicaid and setting a timeline for it.
“Just days ago, (those provisions) made enough sense to get 40 votes in the Senate,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. “We were lauded across the country and it was one of the finest hours I’ve had as a Senator.”