This week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) had a run-in with one of his constituents as he was leaving a fundraising event. Scot Rosenzweig — who identified himself as a fellow Republican — showed Corbett a large photograph of his fiancee, Dina Nelson, who died at the age of 41 because she was uninsured and couldn’t afford a liver transplant. “I think maybe we should consider accepting the Medicaid expansion,” Rosenzweig told his governor, explaining that people like Nelson need access to lifesaving health treatment.
“I can’t do that,” Corbett responded.
Corbett is one of 25 governors who have declined to accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, a move that is preventing an estimated 700,000 low-income Pennsylvanians from accessing public health insurance. Rather than accepting the federal funds designated for expanding his state’s Medicaid pool, Corbett is trying to win federal approval for analternate plan, called “Healthy Pennsylvania,” that would give low-income people subsidies to buy private coverage. But Corbett’s plan has been sharply criticized by anti-poverty advocates, who say it could actually reduce benefits for the state’s neediest constituents.
In his exchange with Rosenzweig, Corbett reiterated his desire to implement “Healthy Pennsylvania,” which he hopes to put in place by 2015. He said he can’t both accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and fix the existing problems he sees with the Medicaid program. But that didn’t satisfy Rosenzweig.
“How many people have to die while we work on the problems?” he asked Corbett.
Rosenzweig was one of several activists protesting outside of the closed-door luncheon that Corbett attended on Tuesday with representatives from the Chamber of Commerce. Press was not allowed at the event. The handful of Pennsylvania residents — all of whom knew Nelson, and some of whom were involved in the Homecare Workers Union with her — protested for a chance to have a seat at the table and discuss Medicaid expansion with the governor.
“If Dina had access to good, preventative healthcare services when she needed it, her life would have been saved,” Rosenzweig told the Sun Gazette. “Gov. Corbett needs to hear more stories like Dina’s about the real impact of his decision to delay Medicaid expansion. How many lives lost are enough?”
Pennsylvania residents have been pushing for Medicaid expansion for months. This past summer, health care advocates staged a “sick-in” outside the governor’s mansion to pressure Corbett to consider the human cost of neglecting to expand the public program. One activist was arrested after chalking a message on the sidewalk — “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too” — because local law enforcement claimed it was a “derogatory remark” about the Pennsylvania leader.
Across the country, an estimated five million low-income Americans will be unable to access affordable health coverage because of their governors’ refusal to expand Medicaid. The resistance to this particular Obamacare provision has a disproportionate impact on people of color. It also has the potential to put a financial strain on businesses and hospitals.