HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Corbett administration’s plan to expand subsidized health care coverage for low-income people includes premiums and job-search requirements that would serve as potential barriers to enrollment, the Pennsylvania chapter of the AARP said Thursday.
The testimony from AARP Pennsylvania came during the seventh and final hearing on the proposal to overhaul the state Medicaid program and use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to buy private coverage for an estimated 500,000 newly eligible people under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Representatives of hospitals, doctors, disabled people, pharmacists and other interest groups raised a variety of problems and concerns — sprinkled with a few compliments — before a panel of Department of Public Welfare officials led by Secretary Beverly Mackereth.
Some witnesses renewed criticism of Gov. Tom Corbett for refusing to broaden the state’s Medicaid eligibility guidelines to cover more low-income adults as of Jan. 1 — like 24 other states and the District of Columbia — despite President Barack Obama’s pledge that the federal government would cover most of the cost.
“Protect and expand Medicaid. It’s the right thing to do for people with disabilities,” said Sol Vazquez-Otero of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania.
Medicaid typically covers the poor and disabled, including children and their parents, pregnant women and elderly people in nursing homes. About 2.2 million Pennsylvanians receive Medicaid.
AARP and others zeroed in on the specifics of Corbett’s plan, which would require the federal government to waive certain rules that govern state Medicaid plans.
AARP spokesman Ray Landis said the proposed monthly premiums for the private policies — ranging up to $35 per household, depending on income — could discourage qualified people from enrolling. He urged eliminating premiums for those with incomes below the poverty line and removing termination of coverage as a consequence of failure to pay the premiums.
Summarizing a five-page letter to Mackereth from AARP’s state director, Landis said the requirement for enrollees to undertake “job search activities” is “unprecedented, complicated and inappropriate” for determining health care eligibility.
Mackereth said the proposals are intended to promote personal responsibility and healthy lifestyles. Discounts on the premium could be earned: An enrollee could cut the premium by as much as half by being employed for at least 30 hours a week, paying premiums on time and completing an annual physical and health risk assessment.
Enrollees also could request exemptions from the job-search requirement under certain circumstances, such as a personal crisis or a serious medical condition, said Mackereth.
“This is our catch-all,” she said. “In no way do we want it to be a barrier.”
DPW officials plan to review and respond to the testimony from the public hearings before submitting a final application for federal approval. Spokeswoman Kait Gillis declined to estimate how soon it will be submitted.