Supporters of Medicaid expansion sleep at Capitol - abc27 WHTM

Supporters of Medicaid expansion sleep at Capitol

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As the budget deadline approaches, there will be a lot of activity at the state Capitol over the next few days.

One group rallying for the piece of the budget pie camped out on the Capitol steps Thursday night. They want lawmakers to include Medicaid expansion in the budget.

The expansion would allow hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who do not qualify for Medicaid to get the care they say they need.

"I have disc herniations in my back and my neck. I have a pinched nerve in my knee. I also have arthritis," said Andre Butler, who is rallying for Medicaid expansion.

Those conditions make Butler's job as a catering server painful.

"There's certain actions and moves which I physically just can't do. I have to ask my co-workers to help me sometimes. That's embarrassing," Butler said. "The doctors don't know what kind it is. I need a CAT scan to see what kind it is, but it costs too much and I can't afford it."

That is because he does not have health insurance and currently does not qualify for Medicaid. If state lawmakers vote to expand Medicaid coverage, Butler would be able to get treatment, and so would hundreds of thousands of other Pennsylvanians.

Here is how the plan would work: beginning in 2014, for three years, the federal government would pay for Medicaid in full. Then for 10 years after that, Pennsylvania would gradually pay in a little more until the state contributes 10 percent.

It is a cost some lawmakers said is too high.

"Recent public hearings have raised a high level of doubt as to whether it is wise for us to engage in expanding a program that is already overburdened, under-performing and financially straining the system," said Rep. Matt Baker. "We also have information that enrollment under an expanded Medicaid program will likely exceed projections, thereby requiring more funding than originally anticipated. With the federal government already announcing cuts to various human services programs through sequestration, can we trust that the money is there to expand Medicaid in the states? Now is clearly not the time to expand the program. It is, instead, the time to examine the program more closely and work on fixing its existing problems."

"It should be looked at as an investment, not as a cost. We're investing in people," said Butler.

There are opposing numbers about just how much Medicaid expansion would cost Pennsylvania in the long run. Those who oppose it said it could cost billions of dollars, while those who support expansion said it will actually save the state money.

Lawmakers could vote as early as Friday.


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