Pa. Republicans pick up fight over health care

Political Notebook

The effective Sept. 30 deadline for Congress to make sweeping changes to the Affordable Care Act came and went, leaving Republicans dejected as the law — and its nationwide Medicaid expansion — remained intact.

But Republicans in Harrisburg have carried on their fight, pushing to cut state Medicaid spending over an expected veto from Gov. Tom Wolf.

Local GOP lawmakers backed an effort, which passed Wednesday, to rewrite the state Human Services Code and make it harder for Medicaid recipients to claim benefits. The bill slipped through the Legislature and headed to Wolf’s desk as Harrisburg remained embroiled in a budget battle.

Under the plan from Rep. Dan Moul, R-Conewago, the state would seek permission from the federal government to impose new work rules on those collecting Medicaid, the insurance program for those with low incomes. Leaving aside the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women, the bill would impose “reasonable employment or job search requirements” on Medicaid recipients.

Those changes likely would not have been met with approval under Barack Obama’s administration, which opened the door for Medicaid expansion by offering additional funds for states that sought to cover more people. Under President Donald Trump, however, several state governments have toyed with work requirements for health care.

More than 2.8 million Pennsylvanians rely on Medicaid. As of late 2015, more than 31,000 people in Blair County — one in four residents — used the insurance.

Cuts and new rules could be necessary had Congress passed one of several Obamacare repeal proposals. Some of the plans that gained steam in Washington would have converted Medicaid funding into block grants, which analysts say would shrink over time.

A state GOP spokesman called the bill’s changes “very common-sense reforms,” noting that Medicaid spending takes up a large part of the state budget.

Local lawmakers seemed to agree: Nearly every Republican voted for the bill, including Rep. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg; Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona; Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford; and Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon. Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown, broke with most of his fellow Democrats to support the bill.

Gov. Tom Wolf vowed last week to veto the bill. But even its opponents seem to think it won’t be gone long: One Philadelphia community told WITF “this conversation is probably ongoing.”

Abortion bill gets support as Pa. rep falls

A bill that would ban many abortions after 20 weeks’ pregnancy — one that drew allegations of hypocrisy for an embattled Pennsylvania congressman — was widely supported by local lawmakers last week.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed the U.S. House on Tuesday in a 237-189 vote. The bill, which failed repeatedly during Barack Obama’s administration, now has support from the White House.

But its timing couldn’t have been worse for Rep. Tim Murphy, R-18th District, the Pittsburgh-area congressman who was revealed last week to have allegedly encouraged his extramarital girlfriend to seek an abortion. Murphy’s situation became a national news story, prompting an announcement that he will resign later this month.

The bill drew broad support from Pennsylvania Republicans, however, including local lawmakers. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District; Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-5th District; and Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-12th District; all backed the plan, which would impose prison time on those providing late-term abortions but would specifically avoid prosecution for the women who obtain them.

The bill includes exemptions for later-term abortions needed to save the pregnant woman’s life, or for those prompted by rape or incest. Pro-abortion rights groups have protested the plan as it moves through Congress.

“Today, the people’s house voted to defend life and to defend the unborn from real pain,” Shuster said in a news release. “I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to pass this bill and send it to President Trump’s desk.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.

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