Corbett’s budget proposes Medicaid changes

    The chief of Pennsylvania’s Public Welfare Department says the commonwealth’s medical assistance program can’t afford to be as generous as it has been.

    Acting Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander said the spending proposal from Gov. Tom Corbett sets the stage for coming reforms that will change minds about public assistance and make the Medicaid plan more in line with private coverage.

    Alexander said other states don’t even offer Medicaid dental care to adults. He said if that help is to continue in Pennsylvania, the program must be reined in.

    “For example, oral examinations,” said Alexander. “We’ve found beneficiaries going in to the dentist four, five, six times a year for an oral exam, whereas on the private market, if you’ve got dental in your health plan, you’re only allowed a certain amount of visits.”

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    Alexander conceded that only a small number of people get multiple visits, but restricting visits to once a year could save the state $25 million.

    The program for children won’t change, but if Corbett’s plan prevails, adults who get prescription drugs or dental care through the Medicaid plan may get fewer benefits.

    Pennsylvania spends about 31 percent of its total budget on Medicaid. Alexander said that’s the largest share of any state in the country.

    State Sen. Vincent Hughes said his “first blush” reaction to Corbett’s budget is concern for Philadelphia’s “meds” and “eds”–the medical and education sectors.

    Across the commonwealth, the governor’s plan would eliminate 500 state hospital jobs as part of 1,500 overall state worker layoffs.

    Corbett says the layoffs are necessary to balance the budget.

    Hughes is hoping for an alternative.

    “When we cripple our hospitals and our provider community, we are not just crippling the health-care services that are provided, but we are crippling the workforce that exists within that community,” Hughes said. “You know, 20 to 30 percent of Philadelphia and all of southeast Pennsylvania’s economy comes from our health-care providers, from our hospital community.”

    Hughes said his caucus has to dig into the details, but Democrats will spend coming weeks trying to “reshape” Corbett’s priorities.

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