State House backs Medicaid limits

Political Notebook

The state House voted narrowly last week to impose new limits and tests on Medicaid recipients, with Altoona-area Republicans backing a work requirement and new premiums for some families.

The 102-91 vote — which divided the House with all present Democrats and a handful of Republicans opposed — sent a multifaceted human services bill to the Senate. Among several provisions, House Bill 59 would require able-bodied adult Medicaid recipients to work or participate in job programs, while higher-income families with disabled children would pay a monthly premium for care.

“There were a lot of reforms in this bill that I thought were really good ideas,” said state Rep. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg. “(There are) sometimes issues some conservatives have with our programs.”

Ward voted for the bill, along with Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon, and all other Republicans in the region. Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown, voted against the measure, which began as a bill on adoption policy before it was heavily amended.

The proposed changes come as lawmakers in Washington spar over sweeping changes to Medicaid, the government insurance program for low-income and disabled people. U.S. Senate Republi­cans are discussing several variations of a bill that would roll back a national Medicaid expansion, putting more funding pressure on states and likely leading to the expansion’s reversal in most of the country.

Pennsylvania is among the states that expanded Medicaid access, adding hundreds of thousands of people to the program’s rolls.

The Pennsylvania House bill, however, would prompt the state to apply for a federal waiver to add work requirements to get Medicaid. While the bill doesn’t detail precisely what those requirements would be, Ward said they would be comparable to the rules that cover the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps.

If that’s the case, able-bodied Medicaid recipients would have to work at least 80 hours per month or spend 80 hours at workforce training or job-seeking programs.

“To put a work requirement in there, I think, encourages people to be self-sufficient and get them trained for something else and move off the welfare rolls,” Ward said.

In addition, the bill would require Medicaid-receiving families with disabled children to pay a premium for coverage. Families making at least 10 times the poverty level — about $246,000 per year — would have to pay several hundred dollars per year.

Gov. Tom Wolf joined Democrats in strongly opposing the bill, Capitolwire reported.

“Governor Wolf strongly opposes these backdoor changes that could have widespread and potentially life-changing effects on the health and well-being of millions of Pennsylvan­ians. Seniors, people with disabilities and low-income working families don’t need their lives to be made even more difficult by politicians in Harrisburg,” his spokesman said. “Medicaid is not a handout — it is a lifeline. We need to support these families, not create more hoops for them to jump through.”

McGinnis pushes polling rule

The next elections in Pennsylvania could see polling-place activists pushed back 30 yards, if Altoona’s state representative gets his way.

A bill proposed last month by McGinnis, now awaiting a vote in a House committee, would significantly expand the area around polling places where candidates and their supporters are allowed to harangue voters.

Pennsylvania is among the least restrictive states when it comes to distance restrictions, McGinnis noted in a memo advertising the bill. Electioneering is allowed within 10 feet of a polling place, a distinction shared only by New Hampshire.

McGinnis’ proposal would expand that limit to 100 feet, putting it in line with many other states.

“While I am appreciative of the efforts and intentions of those who work polling places on behalf of candidates and issues, I do feel voters deserve an unthreatening and unobstructed path to the voting booth on Election Day,” he said in a news release.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.

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