Despite uncertain future, Healthy PA launches with fanfare

     State Sen. Vincent Hughes speaks at an event at the Freedom Valley YMCA celebrating the launch of the Healthy PA subsidized health insurance program. (Carolyn Beeler/WHYY)

    State Sen. Vincent Hughes speaks at an event at the Freedom Valley YMCA celebrating the launch of the Healthy PA subsidized health insurance program. (Carolyn Beeler/WHYY)

    Open enrollment for the new health insurance program for low-income Pennsylvanians started Monday with an enrollment push by state officials and its partners.

    Healthy PA will likely disappear in 2015 as Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has pledged to transform it into expanded Medicaid, but that didn’t put a damper on the Department of Human Services kick-off event in Philadelphia.

    “Today is a great day for Pennsylvania,” said DHS deputy secretary Vincent Gordon to visitors at the West Philadelphia YMCA Monday.

    “Today marks the kick-off of the Healthy Pennsylvania enrollment period, and a day when more than 600,000 Pennsylvanians who previously did not have access to affordable health care coverage options are able to sign up for a better future.”

    Representatives from four of the five private insurance companies offering Healthy PA plans in the Philadelphia region were on hand to talk with potential enrollees and hand out information.

    Residents 21 to 64 years old who earn below 133 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for the premium-free program, which the Corbett administration has been working with the federal government on for a year.

    “I think it’s great, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” said Angela Dozier of West Philadelphia. Dozier teaches fitness classes at the YMCA part time and earns too much to qualify for Medicaid.

    “You’re kind of like caught between a rock and a hard place, so should I just not work and get fully covered and collect welfare, or should I work and not have medical insurance?”

    Dozier hopes Healthy PA is the answer.

    “It’s great to have a program like this,” Dozier said, “because I want to work, so I can go to work and have medical coverage as well.”

    Wolf has urged the Corbett administration to begin implementing a full Medicaid expansion, which Wolf has pledged to do once he takes office in January, but state officials are proceeding full-steam ahead with Healthy PA. They have marketing events like the one in Philadelphia planned around the state in upcoming weeks.

    “A lot of work for the last year has gone into bringing this program up by Jan. 1, a lot of system changes, a lot of infrastructure changes,” said Gordon. “To change that right now I think would be unfair to those 600,000 Pennsylvanians who really need coverage by Jan. 1.”

    Gordon said a Jan. 1 launch wouldn’t be possible if the state tried to change the program.

    DHS officials say enrollees will be “seamlessly” transitioned from Healthy PA plans to traditional Medicaid if and when Wolf makes changes to the program once he takes office. 

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