CORBETT ROLLS THE DICE WITH NEW MEDICAID EXPANSION
Gov. Tom Corbett on Monday offered Pennsylvanians a Medicaid expansion plan that, at its heart, has the laudable goal of extending health coverage to hundreds of thousands of people who do not have it.
But it is also fraught with risks that could ultimately do little to improve the lives of Pennsylvania's neediest residents.
It is the latest installment of a saga that has pitted Republicans seeking free-market solutions to the healthcare crunch against a Democratic administration looking to expand coverage to as many people as it can.
Putting an end to months of speculation, Corbett has proposed using money made available by the federal Affordable Care Act to finance the purchase of private insurance coverage for the uninsured.
Corbett openly admitted Monday that his proposal, whose linchpin is dramatic reforms to the state's Medicaid program, rests on approval from the Obama White House. The current program, he said, is "unsustainable."
And even though he has spent months negotiating with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to find that middle ground, Corbett's proposal nonetheless includes risky provisions that could ultimately torpedo it.
The Medicaid vision Corbett sketched out during a tightly scripted press conference at Harrisburg Hospital bears little resemblance to the program the state has jointly operated with the federal government for decades.
Right now, the state and Washington roughly split the $19.1 billion cost of covering all of a poor person's medical expenses in Pennsylvania. Some 2.2 million Pennsylvanians, now receive benefits, with the state's share at $8 billion, administration officials said.
The plan Corbett rolled out Monday would now ask those recipients to pay a small co-pay and, if they are jobless and able-bodied, to look for work in exchange for receiving coverage. There is no timetable for when that coverage might become available. For states that have acted sooner, expanded coverage is expected to come on Jan. 1.
The governor's plan is modeled on yet-to-be approved proposals advanced by officials in Arkansas and Iowa. But Corbett stands alone on the job-search requirement.
Barely public, the administration's proposal is already meeting with a mixed response.
Healthcare industry leaders lauded it for addressing the long-standing and costly problem of treatment of the uninsured. But they also said they wanted to carefully evaluate the administration's plan.
Advocates for the poor, meanwhile, say they fear that some beneficiaries won't be able to afford even the seemingly modest $25 co-pay envisioned by Corbett.
If he is successful, Corbett will go some distance toward mollifying critics who have spent the last three years painting him as unsympathetic to the plight of the disadvantaged.
And if he fails, those same critics will be entirely justified in asking why Corbett spent months tinkering with his proposal even as 25 other states moved ahead with expanding their Medicaid rolls.
The insurance gap remains one of the most pressing public policy questions of our time. The first and only priority should be closing that gap. Ideology, if it is a factor at all, should finish a distant second.
JUDGES SHOULDN'T ADVOCATE VIOLENCE
It's not every day that you hear a judge advocate for physical violence from the bench.
But it happened Monday in Lehigh County Court when Judge James Anthony was accepting a no contest plea from a Lynn Township man.
George Billig allegedly rammed his wife's car with a pickup truck while she was dropping off another man. The couple's two sons, ages 4 and 6, were riding in the defendant's truck at the time and were not strapped into safety seats, prosecutors say. He used his truck to push his wife's car about 400 feet, first on Brobst Hill Road and then on Hoffadeckel Court in Lynn Township, according to police.
When Anthony asked if there were allegations that Billig's wife, Brandi, was having an affair with the man, defense attorney John Waldron confirmed there were. That led the judge to opine that George Billig should have punched the man in the face instead of ramming his wife's car.
"That's the way men used to deal with these situations," Anthony said from the bench.
George Billig was charged with endangering the welfare of his children, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct, harassment and several summary driving offenses.
He pleaded no contest. Under the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to seek only a probation sentence.
If he had followed the path the judge recommended, he could have found himself facing charges of simple assault, aggravated assault — or worse.
It sounds like the judge was trying to make a point: That George Billig could have handled the situation better.
But telling a defendant that the better option is to resort to another form of violent, aggressive behavior isn't good advice. It's not what we expect to hear from the judges we elect.
Anthony has proven his abilities as an assistant district attorney and as a county judge. This comment appears to be an unfortunate misstep.
The public deserves better from its jurists.
— The (Easton) Express-Times
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A BOX OF PENCILS?
It has finally fallen to this.
Mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday announced a cooperative new plan to help school children get the paper, pencils, erasers and other supplies they desperately need — a plan that calls on parents, taxpayers and stakeholders to cough up just a little bit more of their hard-earned dough.
The goal is to raise $500,000 by Oct. 15 and $2.5 million over the next five years by having ordinary citizens donate to a fund whose goal is to do what our generous tax dollars apparently won't — give kids the tools they need to succeed in school, and in life.
The Philadelphia Education Supplies Fund will be administered by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, with the distribution of funds hashed out by United Way, the district, charter schools and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The city is setting the example, with a $200,000 donation from its general fund, and the promise of $1 million over five years. Other businesses and philanthropic foundations, including Montgomery County's Maguire Foundation, have pledged to assist in various amounts, or with matching dollars.
"I'll take $5s," the mayor said shamelessly at (last) Wednesday's press conference. All that was missing was the tin cup and the harmonica.
Look, it's not that the schools don't need the supplies — they do. Teachers often foot the bill for classroom supplies themselves, a system that just isn't sustainable — especially now. After being taxed to death by both city and state, and with the specter of a precipitous jump in property taxes brought on by the Actual Value Initiative hanging over Philly homeowners' heads, not to mention the endless months of hand-wringing by public officials over the school district's huge deficit — it seems sadly defeatist to just panhandle for the funds.
I'm having fearful visions of Sally Struthers appearing in television commercials with soulful violins playing in the background, and images of sad, doe-eyed Philadelphia public school children holding up empty book bags, while Struthers tells us that little Johnny won't make it through fourth grade unless you're willing to give 75 cents a day, that's less that the price of a cup of coffee, to buy badly needed supplies for your neighborhood school.
I also imagine Gov. Tom Corbett, engineer and architect of this version of the Pennsylvania public school final solution, giggling merrily as he watches those commercials from the back of his limousine while cutting sweetheart deals for his fat cat contributors and Marcellus Shale drillers.
The endgame here, in case you haven't been paying attention, is to do to public education what Corbett tried, and failed, to do with other public institutions like the state liquor stores and the Pennsylvania lottery — privatize. Take that money out of the hands of the people, who don't know what's good for them anyway, and give it to the one percent, who will distribute the funds far more equitably. To themselves.
Once the corporate hogs get their snouts in the public trough, it's almost impossible to pull them out again. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out that when public schools privatize, the real losers are kids and parents in the poorest neighborhoods, who will get whatever crumbs off the table their corporate masters deem sufficient.
The Constitution of our great Commonwealth specifically obligates the state as being responsible for providing a thorough and effective system of educating our children. The state has utterly failed to do that in the 12 years since they took over the schools from the city.
So many promises were broken, and so much money squandered, that it's impossible to point to a single bad guy after all these years of neglect and corruption. To be sure, it's Corbett's mess to fix, but in all fairness, he had an awful lot of help getting to this point. To be even more fair, some of that help came from Democrats, public and quasi-public officials, and greedy contractors who just couldn't pass up easy money — even if that money came directly from the pockets of schoolchildren.
So here we are, begging for an extra portion of gruel like Oliver Twist. And maybe that's the part of this whole plan that sticks in my craw — the sheer indignity of it all. What's next? Bake sales? 50/50 raffles? The band kids busking for change in Suburban Station?
Our children deserve better than to grow up thinking themselves the object of pity simply by asking for what they are guaranteed by right of citizenship.
— The Philadelphia Tribune
ANOTHER RIDICULOUS PENNSYLVANIA LAW
Pennsylvania's book is chock full of ridiculous laws.
Look no further than how we regulate liquor or, even better, fireworks.
Did you know it's OK to sell fireworks in Pennsylvania, but it's illegal to sell them to the fine residents of this commonwealth?
State Rep. Ron Miller recently brought another absurd law to our attention.
We all know stalking, harassment and, oh, let's say, threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction are bad (i.e. illegal).
But Pennsylvania's Crimes Code gives a pass on those three offenses to anyone who's a "party to" a labor dispute.
So if a union member or employer in a heated contract negotiation happens to blurt out his/her intention to bomb the other party's headquarters, that won't necessarily earn them a court date.
We can only surmise the exemptions in the law were intended to protect the rights of those involved in a labor dispute — for example the rights of a union to picket or an employer to lock the workers out.
However, emotions tend to run high in such cases, which is why we'd expect the law to be more vigilant for any over-the-top behavior, not turn a blind eye when it occurs.
Miller, R-Jacobus, said the exemptions are "hard to believe" and he's sponsoring a bill to end them.
"With weapons of mass destruction it's like, 'What?'" he said. "This is a no-brainer. Why do we have a protected class that the law doesn't apply to?"
Although the bill would affect both sides in a labor dispute, organized labor is the one calling foul.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO inducted Miller into its "Hall of Shame, Labor Day Edition" on its website after a House Judiciary Committee on the legislation last month.
Frank Snyder, the organization's secretary-treasurer, posted on the site that the bill would criminalize union members' activities, such as organizing drives and picket lines.
"What (Miller) has failed to identify is a single incident that our current criminal code is unable to address," he wrote. "That is because HB 1154 is not designed to address any real problem; it is designed only to criminalize peaceful, legal, and protected activities by workers seeking to have a voice on the job."
Unions, like businesses, would retain their rights under labor laws; the bill would simply hold them — like anyone else — accountable when their activities cross the line.
There might be, as Snyder suggests, other ways to address such behavior under the law, but that doesn't make the exemptions right.
In fact, having them on the books might even encourage someone to push the line in an already tense situation.
— The York Dispatch