HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Corbett said Tuesday that he will not pursue an expansion of Pennsylvania's Medicaid program, at least for now, echoing the longstanding complaints of other Republican governors about the cost, inflexibility and inefficiency of Medicaid.
Corbett has not made a specific request from the federal Department of Health and Human Services for the kind of flexibility he wants, and his administration characterized a Tuesday letter to the agency's secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, as a starting point.
Corbett made his announcement as part of the budget plan he rolled out for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and sent the letter simultaneously.
In the letter, Corbett cites the potential cost, saying it would require a large tax increase on Pennsylvanians, and objects to what he called Medicaid's one-size-fits-all mandates that do not promote consumer choice in health care and personal responsibility.
"At this time, and without serious reforms, it would be financially unsustainable for Pennsylvania taxpayers, and I cannot recommend a dramatic Medicaid expansion," he wrote.
A Health and Human Services Department spokesman on Tuesday evening would only say that agency officials were reviewing the letter.
The Corbett administration anticipates that more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians would join Medicaid rolls beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid, the federal-state medical program for the poor and disabled that already provides care for one of every six residents in the state.
Top Republicans in the Legislature said they backed Corbett's decision, citing his complaints that he has been unable to get answers from the Department of Health and Human Services on crucial questions, such as whether some children who are covered under the so-called CHIP program must move to Medicaid.
But Democrats immediately attacked Corbett as pandering to right-wing conservatives at the expense of billions of federal dollars that could help the working poor and hospitals. Five other Republican governors have embraced the Medicaid expansion, and Ohio's Gov. John Kasich even viewed it as a boost to the state's tax collections.
"He's turning his back on $4 billion" a year in federal health care money, said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, adding that Corbett's fears of a growing state share are "overstated."
Corbett, a Republican who will run for re-election next year, faces a potential primary challenger from the right and heavy pressure from conservatives to resist elements of "Obamacare."
As attorney general in 2010, Corbett joined an ultimately unsuccessful multi-state lawsuit to try to throw out President Barack Obama's sweeping health care law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the heart of the law last year, but allowed states to decide whether to expand Medicaid.
The administration says the cost to Pennsylvania would be $4.1 billion over eight years, while Democratic lawmakers say the state treasury would see a net benefit of $670 million a year in higher tax revenues from the economic boost to the health care sector and lower state costs to cover people who are uninsured.
The expansion would allow Pennsylvanians earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for a family of four, to be eligible for Medicaid coverage.