Lawmakers last week zeroed in on Gov. Tom Corbett’s efforts to overhaul the Medicaid system during Department of Public Welfare budget hearings.

Democratic lawmakers on the state Senate appropriations committee argued for expanding Medicaid, an option for the states under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Corbett’s Healthy PA plan would use the federal money available under the PPACA and place those eligible for Medicaid in health care exchanges established under the act. Pennsylvania must obtain a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the plan.

DPW Secretary Beverly Mackereth said that expanding the state Medicaid program does not allow for the reforms included in Corbett’s plan. Nearly a half-million more people are eligible to enroll in Medicaid under the PPACA, and Mackereth said that even with federal matching funds, the cost to the state would be significant, especially without cost reductions through reforms.

But state Sen. Larry Farnese Jr., D-Philadelphia, said, “I don’t see how this Healthy PA program fulfills the governor’s commitment that these folks have access to health care when you look at, number one, that we’ve turned our back on over $630 million already, and, number two, when you look at the surrounding states.”

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, the committee chairman, said that without the waiver Pennsylvania would continue to provide benefits at the level the state has been providing them since the federal stimulus was enacted. He said the state is looking at the likelihood of the department budget increasing by $1 billion annually.

The Corbett administration applied for the Healthy PA waiver Feb. 19.

Corbett’s office said the plan has three major goals:

• Increase access to private market health insurance through the Healthy PA private coverage option for Pennsylvanians 21 or older, but under 65 years of age, with incomes less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,282 for a household of one).

• Modify the existing Medicaid benefit designs to be consistent with the private health insurance market to assure long-term sustainability of the program and provide a safety net when individuals have the greatest need.

• Promote healthy behaviors and increased independence through cost sharing and encouraging employment.

— J.L.K. •