The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 6, 2014

Valley jobs in peril as gov’s idea hits wall

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— SELINSGROVE — A health initiative that would create about 700 new jobs, and could bring some of them to the Valley, may be in trouble as talks between Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration and the federal government appeared to stumble last week.

During a public-health conference Wednesday, Corbett said he was reaching his “breaking point” with federal negotiators over his proposed Healthy Pennsylvania plan to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to subsidize private health insurance policies.

He wouldn’t divulge specifics on what’s holding back the talks, but expressed his frustration by saying, “I am starting to feel like a yo-yo.”

Under Corbett’s alternative plan, Pennsylvania would accept billions of federal dollars and allow low-income recipients to use the plan to buy private insurance beginning Jan. 1, 2015. About 520,000 people would be covered under the proposal.

His plan requires a waiver of Medicaid’s rules on retroactive coverage, benefits and networks for the private insurance plans. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is accepting public comment on the proposal until Thursday, with formal negotiations to begin afterward.

Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz, a Republican, said he supports Healthy PA, and not only because Selinsgrove Center could potentially benefit by serving as a call center and employing caseworkers and support staff needed to provide assistance and manage the program.

“I think the concept makes sense,” he said.

Kait Gillis, a state Department of Public Works spokesman, said an estimated 700 jobs would be created if the program is approved, but added that no specific locations have been picked pending the ongoing negotiations.

It’s not only federal officials who are giving some resistance to Corbett’s plan. Democrats who plan to challenge Corbett in the November election say Medicaid coverage is more cost-effective than the private insurance market.

So far, 26 states have expanded Medicaid-funded health insurance and three have received approval for alternative plans.