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Corbett’s sorry health care legacy

Governor Corbett will leave office today.

Governor Corbett will leave office today. Unfortunately for working Pennsylvanians, his vision for health care – more bureaucracy, higher costs, more complexity and fewer benefits – will remain. That is, unless incoming Governor Wolf sets about immediately to reverse course on Corbett's direction.

Let's take a moment to examine the direction in which the outgoing Governor has taken Pennsylvania over the last four years. Even before taking office, Corbett was working to strip Pennsylvanians of new rights, choices and savings provided by the Affordable Care Act. He was one of 28 attorneys general who used taxpayer money to file a lawsuit that sought to prevent the citizens in their states from realizing the health and economic benefits available under the law.

Then, less than two months after taking office on January 20, 2011, Corbett opted to let funding for Pennsylvania's popular Adult Basic health care plan expire. As a result, more than 41,000 low and middle-income workers – people like school bus drivers, cashiers, and caregivers – saw their health insurance taken away on March 1st.

Then came a decisive moment: the Supreme Court's ruling on the case that Corbett had worked to bring. While key provisions of the ACA were upheld, the law's Medicaid expansion was undermined. The Court gave states the leeway to choose whether to use the law's funding to participate in the expansion.

For the next year, pressure built on the Governor to put practicality before partisanship and draw down federal funds to expand access to coverage. Doing so, as both health care providers and members of the business community pointed out, wasn't just good for Pennsylvania's health, it was also good for the economy.

The Governor finally yielded to that pressure, proposing his own version of a Medicaid expansion, which he called Healthy PA. True to form, he didn't give without also taking away – in this case by cutting benefits and limiting badly needed health care services for the 1.1 million adults currently covered by Medicaid. Corbett couldn't simply clear the path for low-income, uninsured Pennsylvanians to get insurance. He had to throw in some obstacles and construct new barriers to make getting covered and accessing care more difficult.

People with disabilities, people with low-incomes, parents, and pregnant women have received a series of confusing letters about benefit cuts and changes under Corbett's plan. Other potentially at-risk individuals have had to complete an invasive health screening form that asks for private details of their medical history. And some individuals must now forgo care because they cannot access behavioral health providers.

The Medicaid expansion as envisioned by the ACA makes current monthly income the only factor in determining whether someone qualifies. However, Healthy PA also considers assets. And to show the amount of their assets, new Medicaid applicants must submit a series of documents, such as bank statements, life insurance policies, and proof of the fair market value of their car. Yet, in the face of this new and confusing bureaucracy, the State's help lines often provide conflicting information.

Every day, Pennsylvanians confront the Corbett legacy of headaches, hurdles and hardship as they apply for and fight to keep their benefits under Healthy PA. However, while Corbett's health care legacy is set, it doesn't have to dictate what happens in the next four years. Governor Wolf has an opportunity not only to reverse course but also to cement his own legacy as a leader who will make our health care system stronger, more accessible and more affordable. He can do that on day one by closing the book on Healthy PA.


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