By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]

Capitol Roundup: Medicaid expansion expected to help more than 625,000 Pennsylvanians

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WILKES-BARRE — In the year since Gov. Tom Wolf expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians have become eligible for affordable health care.

This week, according to information released by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration announced that 625,000 Pennsylvanians are now insured — many for the first time.

According to the new release, the Medicaid expansion means:

• Low-income Pennsylvanians can now access care without worrying about pre-existing conditions or skyrocketing costs.

• Those struggling with addiction and substance dependence can get the treatment they need.

• Pennsylvanians can rely on health insurance to be there when they need it.

The enrollment of some 625,000 residents marks a dramatic reduction in the state’s uninsured population, cutting the percentage nearly in half from 14 percent, according to state estimates.

“It’s transformed Pennsylvania, and what it means for folks in Pennsylvania in terms of their health care,” said state Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas during a stop at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia Friday.

As Dallas spoke to a room peppered with local officials, clergy and health leaders, he pointed to charts and maps breaking down the impact: in 16 counties including Philadelphia, for example, more than 10,000 newly eligible people have enrolled; across the state, nearly half of new enrollees are employed, with 46 percent overall younger than 35.

In Philadelphia, 11,466 of the 143,811 newly eligible people were treated for conditions related to addiction. Statewide, the number of participating Medicaid providers is up from 92,801 in 2014 to 108,776 in 2016.

Medicaid is a state program run in partnership with the federal government. It offers health benefits to very low income residents and those who have disabilities. Eligibility and benefit design varies by the state, though the federal government mandates certain baseline coverage.

Expanding Medicaid with enhanced federal funding became optional under the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

For states that participate, like Pennsylvania, even people who don’t have children and earn up to $16,200 a year, or 138 percent of the federal poverty level, can qualify. That also means a family of four with an income of up to about $30,000 is eligible.

Mullery introduces 2 bills

aimed at ‘fixing’ Harrisburg

State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, last week introduced two pieces of legislation that will “help fix a broken Harrisburg” by eliminating perks given to elected officials and make members of the General Assembly more accountable.

The first legislation, House Bill 2027, would require all legislators to contribute more toward the costs of their health insurance coverage. Under Mullery’s legislation, each member of the General Assembly would be required to pay 10 percent of the annual premium for their health care starting Jan. 1, 2017. Currently, members contribute 1 percent of their annual salary toward their health care coverage.

“The time is long overdue for lawmakers in this commonwealth to pay a fair share of their own health care cost,” Mullery said. “The savings gained could be used to invest in vital Pennsylvania programs.”

Mullery also introduced H.B. 2024, which would eliminate the automatic cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for members of the General Assembly, judges and various elected and appointed positions of the executive branch, including the governor and lieutenant governor.

Mullery said state legislators already make a base salary that is one of the highest in the nation.

“Eliminating automatic pay raises is an important step in helping restore the public’s trust in their elected leaders,” Mullery said.

Boback, Kortz emphasize

importance of civics education

Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, and Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, have called for increased civics education in schools.

They were joined by state and national leaders in civics education to encourage the legislature to support House Bill 1858, which would require Pennsylvania high school students to demonstrate a basic understanding of American history and civics as a condition of graduation.

Several national studies and surveys have shown that students are unable to answer basic questions about the U.S. government and American history. To address this problem, Boback and Kortz have introduced House Bill 1858, which is adopted from the Civics Education Initiative. The bill would require high school students to pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics from the United States Citizenship Civics Test — the test all immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass.

“Our young people today face a crisis of knowledge with respect to their understanding of our country and its founding documents,” Boback said. “It is incumbent on us, as lawmakers, to ensure that our education system provides schools with a mechanism to make certain that Pennsylvania’s students are adequately prepared to be active and engaged citizens.”

Kortz said Pennsylvania needs to reconsider its approach to civics education when only one out of four students can pass a citizenship test. He said, “Knowledge of how our government works is essential for democracy to survive.”

Lucian Spataro, chairman of education initiatives for the Joe Foss Institute, which launched the effort last year in legislatures throughout the country, said Pennsylvania has a proud place in the history of American democracy.

“This legislation is an important first step to put civics back on the front burner where it belongs, so our students graduate as actively engaged and responsible citizens,” Spataro said, adding that 10 states have already passed similar legislation with bipartisan support and many more are considering legislation this year.

Educators would have a great deal of flexibility with regard to the implementation of civics proficiency graduation requirement. The 100 questions can be applied in a variety of ways and many teachers have expressed that they already incorporate the topics into their curriculum.

House Bill 1858 has the support of over two dozen members and is a bipartisan initiative. The bill is endorsed by the American Legion Department of Pennsylvania and is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

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Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.