Meadville Tribune

Opinion

September 21, 2013

Corbett’s Medicaid expansion is corporate welfare in medical scrubs

Gov. Tom Corbett stepped to the podium earlier this week in a dimly-lit pavilion outside a Harrisburg hospital. Behind the governor was a carefully-selected phalanx of human props. Doctors in lab coats. Burly emergency medical technicians. Three moms clutching squirming toddlers. In all, a group of 30 people crammed shoulder-to-shoulder to grin awkwardly as if they were readying for a grade school class picture.

And interspersed in that gaggle of health care professionals and health care customers were people in suits — people from trade associations and the insurance industry. This plan was for them.

Make no mistake: Corbett’s plan is not really designed to please the poor and downtrodden. It’s intended to curry favor with the hospitals and the insurance companies. That might have been lost in the knee-jerk, ideological reactions prompted by Corbett’s plan. But we can thank Republican Arkansas state Sen. Jim Hendren, who was jetted to Harrisburg on the dime of Americans for Prosperity to talk to the ink-stained wretches at the Capitol.

You see, Arkansas is a step ahead of us. Arkansas approved a Corbett-style faux-Medicaid expansion four months ago.

Hendren argues that Corbett and other Republicans who have tried to market this plan as being materially different from Obama’s view of Medicaid expansion are trying to pull a “thinly-veiled smoke and mirrors trick.”

After announcing that he would like to use federal dollars to provide health insurance for 500,000 low-income Pennsylvanians, Corbett muttered, “This isn’t adding people to an entitlement, it’s creating a new program.”

It’s a program that will pour dollars into the pockets of insurance companies and hospital executives rather than prop up Medicaid, a struggling government program.

The principal objection that those in health care have with Medicaid is that the government plan does not pay enough. That’s why more and more health care providers are refusing to accept Medicaid. If you replace Medicaid with a plan that pays health care providers better, how will it cost taxpayers less? And if you depend on private insurance companies to manage those plans, how are they going to make a profit without it coming off the backs of taxpayers?

Those are questions Hendren said he raised when the idea was first raised in Arkansas. And he’s still waiting for an answer. (And similar questions plague the discussions about privatizing the state-run liquor monopoly, so at least Corbett’s fuzzy math is consistent).

And so, in one fell swoop, the Corbett health insurance plan illustrates two of the most telling hallmarks of Corbett’s style of governing: Crafting policy to cater to he whims of corporate interests and trying to fool voters by marketing policy with names intended to shield their purpose and effect.

What’s the difference between a severance tax on natural gas drilling and an impact fee? The first is what they have in every other place where there is an abundance of natural gas drilling. The latter is what we have in Pennsylvania because Republicans, including Corbett, were loathe to support a tax increase. But they still wanted the money. So they passed a tax and called it a fee.

The phenomenon reared its head again in the conversation about transportation funding. The governor didn’t want to raise the gas tax. So, he proposed lifting the cap on the wholesale oil company franchise tax. What’s the difference between lifting a cap and increasing a tax? There’s no difference to motorists. The price of gas will increase either way — to the tune of 25 cents a gallon.

And this week, we had the Medicaid Expansion that wasn’t an expansion of Medicaid. Corbett can call it whatever he wants, but what it is is this: Corporate welfare in medical scrubs.

Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He can be reached by email at jfinnerty@cnhi.com or on Twitter @cnhipa.

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