Democratic lawmakers are ratcheting up the pressure on the Corbett administration and Republican leadership in the General Assembly to move forward with the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) announced he has filed discharge resolution - a rarely-used parliamentary tactic - to force a vote on his bill to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
It might be a bit of a legislative "Hail Mary," given that no discharge resolution has been successful in at least the last 16 years, according to Senate GOP spokesman, Erik Arneson.
But Hughes cited comments by Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) last week about a "practical deadline" facing the legislature to take action ahead of the budget vote and summer break.
“I agree completely. That is why I’ve decided to file a discharge petition to seek a vote on Senate Bill 12 in the full Senate," said Hughes, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. "We are rapidly running out of time to take advantage of the savings generated by Medicaid expansion in the state budget.”
Hughes' bill, which was introduced on March 26th, has been stuck in the Public Health and Welfare Committee.
Medicaid expansion would provide health insurance to at least 500,000 Pennsylvanians (estimates vary) through an infusion of $4 billion in federal funds that would also help sustain hospitals, particularly those serving large populations of uninsured.
A study released today by the independent Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) found a record $1 billion in uncompensated care last year.
Uncompensated care—care hospitals provide for which they are not paid, either due to uncollectible debts or charity cases—topped $1 billion, a growth of 121% between fiscal year 2002 and fiscal 2012.
Those costs rose from $469 million in 2002 to $1.04 billion in 2012, the report said.
"..The continued growth of uncompensated care, now over $1 billion annually, remains a major concern,” said Joe Martin, executive director of PHC4.
The federal government will foot the bill for the first three years of the program, but Gov. Corbett maintains that there will be costs associated with expansion, both in the start up and in later years that will be prohibitive.
And last week Department of Public Welfare Secretary Bev Mackereth said the state would not be prepared to implement the expansion until 2015.
Hughes disagreed, saying "if any state has the system in place to handle it it's Pennsylvania."
The Independent Fiscal Office found the expansion would generate $180 million in savings for the state budget in the first fiscal year. That number could increase significantly if the Gross Receipts Tax is levied on services related to expansion.
It would also create between 35,000 and 40,000 new jobs in health-care related fields.
“Clearly, Medicaid expansion is something that Pennsylvania needs to do,” said Hughes. “If Gov. Corbett is unwilling to do the right thing, my colleagues in the Senate must send a clear message that this is unacceptable. It’s time for a vote on Medicaid expansion.”
Under the discharge process, a committee can be "discharged" from consideration of a bill within ten legislative days of its referral with the unanimous consent of the full Senate. After 10 legislative days have passed, the bill can be discharged by a majority vote of Senate members.
One way or the other, Hughes said, there would be a vote on Medicaid expansion that would show where lawmakers stand on the issue.
With 23 "yes" votes in the Democratic caucus, supporters would need only three GOP lawmakers to sign on to the bill to win it's passage in the Senate.
Hughes said the 10-day clock would start ticking on June 3 and end June 24. Meanwhile, House Democrats staged an impromptu news conference in the Capitol newsroom today to point to the record uncompensated care costs. '
House Democrats say they may be considering a similar tack with their expansion bill.
When asked if Medicaid could be used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations, Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) said Medicaid should stand on its own.
"The benefits are clear," said Frankel. "Job creation, helping hospitals with care costs, providing health care to people, it shouldn't be held hostage."