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Editorial: Corbett health plan good but leaves questions

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Pennsylvanians waited expectantly Monday for Gov. Tom Corbett to declare whether he would go for Medicaid expansion or reject it.

The answer, when it finally came at a news conference at Harrisburg Hospital? Neither.

Instead, the governor presented a lengthy proposal that "creates real health care choices, reduces government bureaucracy and provides a pathway to independence for all Pennsylvanians" using the money intended for Medicaid expansion.

When you peel away the political rhetoric, you'll find a pretty good plan. It gets kids into CHIP faster; expands the availability of primary care clinics; and helps more older and disabled citizens remain in their homes — all while stabilizing Medicaid spending in the commonwealth.

The keystone to this plan — the hook for the feds, as it were — is the proposal to expand health insurance to the commonwealth's poorest residents by using the expansion money to allow them to buy private insurance instead.

Talk about having your cake.

The lack of hard data in the plan is troubling, however, as is the way other pertinent facts are skirted. Corbett says his "Healthy Pennsylvania" plan will save money — always a good thing, as long as services aren't compromised. But there's not even a ballpark estimate offered on how much.

Healthy Pennsylvania implies that a portion would come from requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to enroll in the state's JobGateway program to search for work. The omitted detail is that the vast majority of Pennsylvanians on Medicaid are children, the elderly and the disabled — some 80 percent in total.

As the governor and his team take the proposal on the road in coming days, it's impossible to predict Washington's response. But in light of the ongoing discussions between the administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, it's disappointing to think he didn't get the blessing of the feds before presenting the plan with such public fanfare.

With Medicaid expansion, Gov. Corbett may think he's cleverly thrown the ball back into the feds' court. But if this plan is nixed, the failure will come back on him — and Pennsylvania will lose as well.

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