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Final Pa. Budget Fails to Make Up Lost Ground

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has released a full detailed analysis of the 2013-14 state budget plan spending $28.376 billion, roughly $645 million (or 2.3%) more than in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Governor Tom Corbett signed the budget into law late in the evening of June 30, 2013. Overall, the plan is $64 million less than the Governor proposed in February, reflecting nearly $113 million in reduced spending for public school pensions and school employees’ Social Security payments along with a shift of $90 million in General Fund spending off budget to other funds.

2012-13 General Fund Summary
(in $ Millions)
2012-13 2013-14
Gov.
2013-14
Final
Change f/ 2012-13 %
Change
General Fund $27,731 $28,440 $28,376 +$645 2.3%

The plan includes a small increase to basic education funding, $122.5 million overall, with $30.2 million allocated to 21 school districts through a supplemental allocation, on top of the $90 million increase in the Governor’s proposal.

After many years of cuts, most programs received small increases in the Governor’s proposed budget, which remained in the final plan.

Changes to pension benefits for current employees, the cornerstone of the Governor’s original budget proposal, did not occur. The Legislature does not seem inclined to tamper with benefits for current employees. A proposal to move to a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new employees gained traction later in the session but was not adopted. This proposal may return in the fall.

Also abandoned was an $800 million education initiative to be funded through the sale of state liquor stores. While the privatization vs. modernization debate held center stage until the last week of the session, the school funding component was quickly abandoned and was not part of legislative proposals. Privatization is likely to be considered in the fall, as well.

For the first time in two years, there were no major cuts to services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians; however, a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage in 2014, a state option under the federal Affordable Care Act, was left undone. Legislation including the Medicaid expansion won bipartisan support in the Senate, but the House stripped out the expansion provision from the bill. When the bill returned to the Senate, a last ditch effort to restore the Medicaid expansion provision failed in a dramatic Senate committee vote on July 3.

Finally, a transportation funding package that would repair crumbling infrastructure and give a much needed shot in the arm to Pennsylvania’s flagging job growth failed to pass the House, despite overwhelming support in the Senate.

Get all the details from PBPC’s budget analysis.

Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion

11:28 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

There is growing bipartisan agreement that the optional expansion of Medicaid provided by the Affordable Care Act is too good an opportunity to pass up.

This month, the Governors of Arizona and North Dakota, both Republicans, announced their intention to opt-in to the Medicaid expansion, joining their counterparts in Nevada and New Mexico. To date, 14 states have decided to expand Medicaid in 2014, and another seven are leaning toward expansion. Pennsylvania remains among the 21 undecided states.

Support for Medicaid Expansion Growing
Here’s what Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had to say about Medicaid:

By agreeing to expand our Medicaid program just slightly beyond what Arizona voters have twice mandated, we will:

• Protect rural and safety-net hospitals from being pushed to the brink by their
growing costs in caring for the uninsured;
• Take advantage of the enormous economic benefits — inject $2 billion into our
economy — save and create thousands of jobs; and,
• Provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans.

Saying ‘no’ to this plan would not save these federal dollars from being spent or direct them to deficit reduction. No, Arizona’s tax dollars would simply be passed to another state — generating jobs and providing health care for citizens in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico or any other expansion state … With this move, we will secure a federal revenue stream to cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms … Weigh the evidence and do the math. With the realities facing us, taking advantage of this federal assistance is the strategic way to reduce Medicaid pressure on the State budget. We can prevent health care expenses from eroding core services such as education and public safety, and improve Arizona’s ability to compete in the years ahead. I’m committed to doing this, and I want you on my side. Let’s work together in an atmosphere of respect and do what is BEST for Arizona.

For Pennsylvania, the expansion of Medicaid is projected to bring in $17 billion in new federal investments by 2019, while expanding coverage to between 482,000 and 683,000 uninsured adults.

When Governor Corbett gives his budget address on February 5, he will offer a glimpse into the state’s plans to take advantage of this opportunity. Opting-in will create jobs, strengthen our health care system and provide health coverage to working parents, veterans, and seniors.

Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania General Assembly should consider the benefits and savings that come with a Pennsylvania Medicaid expansion as well as the price of forgoing this opportunity — fewer jobs, a weakened health care delivery system and hardworking people without affordable insurance.

Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind

8:01 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Michael Wood, Third and State

Federal health care reform is moving forward thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year — and it is a great deal for Pennsylvania. Unless the state decides to “opt out,” Medicaid coverage will be expanded to include many Pennsylvanians who are uninsured.

One group that will benefit immediately are parents with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($25,390 for a family of three). The benefits don’t end there: others who don’t receive health coverage through their work will be able to buy insurance on a competitive health marketplace or exchange — making coverage more affordable.

However, if Governor Corbett prevents the Medicaid expansion, it will create a coverage gap for families between 46% and 100% of poverty, as the chart below shows (click on it for a larger view).

Those families between 46% and 100% of poverty earn too much to qualify for Medicaid (for a family of three, this means earning over $8,781 but less than the federal poverty line of $19,090). These families won’t receive Medicaid coverage, and they won’t receive subsidies to buy health coverage.

We all benefit when more people have health coverage. Let’s make the right decision in Pennsylvania and expand Medicaid coverage.

Will Pennsylvania Take Full Advantage of Health Reform?

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

With the election decided, it is now clear that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. That’s great news for Pennsylvanians, some of whom have already begun to benefit from the health reform law, and many others who will see more gains as major provisions take effect in 2014.

As Judy Solomon writes at the Off the Charts Blog, a key provision of the law will allow states to expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults earning up to 133% of the poverty line, with the federal government covering most of the costs:

The question now is whether some states will squander this opportunity to cover millions of uninsured Americans.

Coverage for more than 11 million poor, uninsured adults is at risk if states don’t expand Medicaid, according to the Urban Institute.

Status of Health Reform Medicaid Expansion

As you can see in the chart above, Pennsylvania is among the states that have not made a clear decision on the Medicaid expansion. 

Failing to expand Medicaid would squander the opportunity to boost our state economy. The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured estimates that the Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania will amount to at least $17 billion in additional federal dollars invested in the state between 2014 and 2019. By contrast, as Solomon writes, the “Congressional Budget Office estimates that if all states adopt the expansion, they will spend only 2.8 percent more on Medicaid from 2014 to 2022 than they would have spent without health reform.”

Failing to expand Medicaid would also cost Pennsylvania real money that would otherwise be saved by reducing what the state spends to provide health care in emergency rooms and health clinics to people without insurance. 

Governor Corbett and the Legislature should take steps to expand Medicaid in 2014. It will help thousands of working parents and other adults in Pennsylvania get the quality health care they need and give the state’s economy a real boost.

PA Must Reads: Shameful: PA Has Denied 88,000 Kids Health Care Since August

6:48 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

(image: harshapvss, flickr)

Just Shadows (image: harshapvss, flickr)

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Key elements of the Corbett administration’s strategy are to cut business taxes while reducing spending on public health and education. This morning we learn this strategy has resulted in the loss of health care for 88,000 Pennsylvania children.

More children lost Medicaid coverage in Pennsylvania in December than in the previous three months combined, according to new Department of Public Welfare numbers that show a total of 88,000 cut since August.

Advocates for the poor and disabled say orders to quickly process a backlog of eligibility reviews, which has mushroomed to more than 700,000 cases, have pushed an already overwhelmed workforce over the edge.

Many cuts that legal-services and social workers challenged turned out to involve paperwork that they say DPW lost — sometimes repeatedly, even when clients had receipts — or that had never been sent in the first place.

The official numbers don’t count an additional 23,000 children whose benefits were cut and eventually restored retroactively, often with legal help. But poorer people may be less likely to call a lawyer, and child advocates believe thousands have no idea they are now uninsured …

On Friday, an infant who was born three months prematurely was brought in for a monthly immunoglobulin injection and was denied, to the surprise of hospital workers and family, when the staff ran the insurance card. Without the preventive shot, [St. Christopher's Hospital for Children pediatrician
Renee] Turchi said, complications of a virus could be life-threatening.

In Allentown, the Parkland School Board is looking to sell advertising on school buses to help the district avoid additional staff cuts and property tax increases.

The Parkland School Board is considering advertising on school buses, the latest dollar-digging strategy to raise money in a tough economic climate when officials are eyeing program cuts and tax hikes…

The move comes a week before the school board is expected to adopt a preliminary budget for the 2012-13 school year. The early spending proposal, scheduled for a vote Jan. 24, includes plans to reduce staff and raise taxes by nearly 4 percent.