HARRISBURG — An effort to push Pennsylvania toward expanding Medicaid eligibility to hundreds of thousands of uninsured adults is dead for now after state Senate Republicans decided Wednesday against forcing the issue with the Republican House majority and Gov. Tom Corbett, who had apparently threatened a veto.
Instead, the Republican-controlled Senate voted along party lines, 27-22, to send a budget-related bill to Corbett’s desk without a provision that would have required him to seek federal approval for an expansion of Medicaid eligibility by Oct. 1. The House stripped that provision Monday.
Democrats spoke bitterly against the step. But Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said Wednesday that the Senate was at an impasse with the more conservative House, and that he had received the “very clear impression” in the last two or three weeks that Corbett, a Republican, would veto it, even had it won House approval.
In any case, the method the Senate had used to try to force the hand of the House and Corbett — inserting the Medicaid provision into a wider, budget-related bill — also motivated Senate Republicans to back down once House Republicans rejected it, 108-94.
A showdown over Medicaid risked stalling separate provisions in the budget-related bill to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities, Pileggi said. In any case, the Senate can press the issue when it returns to Harrisburg in September, Pileggi said.
“This is not the end of the journey on this issue,” Pileggi said during floor comments. “It is a different process that will move forward without putting these funds at risk.”
Democrats protested, calling it hypocritical and cruel for Corbett and lawmakers to deny taxpayer-paid health care to low-income working adults, from personal care attendants to restaurant employees, while enjoying it themselves.
“They are real human beings too,” Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said during floor debate.
A spokesman for Corbett did not respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Corbett and his aides had avoided saying publicly whether he would veto the measure, or whether they were even aware of what the bill said.
House Republicans said that it would expand an already bloated entitlement program to unaffordable levels and that it would undercut the governor’s ability to win concessions from the federal government to limit the scope and cost of a Medicaid expansion.
A broad coalition favors Medicaid expansion and supported the bill, including hospital leaders, Democratic lawmakers, religious leaders, advocates for the poor, labor unions and the AARP.
Democratic lawmakers cited studies that an infusion of billions of federal health care dollars would boost Pennsylvania’s state government tax collections, spur hiring in the health care sector and shore up the finances of hospitals that have to find other ways to cover the cost to treat the uninsured.
An expansion under President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law is designed to provide federally funded health care coverage to hundreds of thousands, primarily uninsured adults, beginning next year.
Corbett is critical of the Medicaid program and, as state attorney general, sued unsuccessfully in federal court to strike down the health care law. He has made no commitment to seek a Medicaid expansion, but his administration has given examples of concessions the federal government must make if he is to sign on to it.