The jury-rigged health-care program for the working poor crafted on Gov. Corbett's orders recently cleared a legal hurdle. A federal judge refused to block it despite evidence that Healthy PA, a substitute for Medicare expansion under the federal health-care reform law, needlessly reduces coverage for many of the 600,000 Pennsylvanians affected. But the program faces additional legal and practical challenges.
While state officials reported this month that more than 100,000 households had applied to Healthy PA, advocates say these uninsured residents have encountered a maze of confusing and contradictory requirements to obtain the new coverage over the last six weeks. Some of them have been turned away or seen delays in coverage that was supposed to start on Jan. 1.
New directives on the handling of applications, issued only last week by the Corbett administration, are yet another indication that Healthy PA may be justifying the concerns of critics. Indeed, the group Pennsylvania Health Access Network foresees "more bureaucracy, higher costs, more complexity, and fewer benefits."
Such miscues only underscore the need for Gov.-elect Tom Wolf to move quickly to convert the hybrid health insurance plan into the full-scale, federally funded Medicaid expansion made available by the Affordable Care Act. Wolf has said that's his intention, and he's named at least one aide to his inner circle - an insurance commissioner with high-level experience in the federal health-care bureaucracy - who could give him savvy advice on making the transition.
If there's a risk that the new governor, who is to be sworn in Tuesday, will be distracted by the significant demands of a looming budget deficit and other shorter-term issues, he need only focus on how much is at stake: not only health coverage for uninsured individuals who now face life-threatening illnesses without a safety net, but also a multimillion-dollar economic boost to the health-care sector. The balance sheets of hospitals, for example, are riding partly on the ACA's success in reducing their staggering costs for treating the uninsured in their emergency rooms.
Corbett's aides had to know it was never going to be easy to create the lower-cost hybrid that the governor insisted on. Already, it has meant more than a year of delays in providing the affordable health coverage that, by federal law, should be the right of hundreds of thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians.