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Pennsy lawmakers need health-care compromise

June 07, 2005

The Pennyslvania Legislature has less than a month to approve a budget for Fiscal Year 2005-2006. But surging growth in the state's Medicaid budget and a dispute over a deal the governor struck with four big insurers may make the June 30 deadline tough to hit.

Unless, that is, the state's elected officials focus less on their own prerogatives and more on the welfare of Medicaid recipients.

According to the Harrisburg bureau of The Associated Press, Pennsylvania's Medicaid program is the fastest-growing item in the state's budget. In the next budget year, it will cost the state $4.5 billion to fund it.

Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed reducing the program by $500 million, in part by cutting the services recipients are eligible for and by trimming reimbursements to providers.

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If the idea of cutting Medicaid makes Rendell seem heartless, consider also that in February he persuaded four large insurers to contribute money to state programs for the uninsured.

The state's four Blue Cross/Blue Shield companies agreed to donate $1 billion over six years. Some of that cash will go toward Pennsylvania's adultBasic program, which covers low-income working adults.

The program costs $32 a month and has a waiting list of 100,000, AP reports.

But state lawmakers say the deal is unconstitutional, because it circumvents the legislature's role in collecting and disbursing revenue.

A spokesman for the government said the deal is done and the legislature cannot change the terms of an agreement the insurers entered into on a voluntary basis.

We see lawmakers' point; if the governor is free to work out agreements with Pennsylvania companies and apply the revenue to programs of his choice without legislative oversight, future governors might do a great deal of mischief.

Our suggestion is that lawmakers pass a bill ratifying the current agreement, but clarifying that in the future, such pacts need to come before them for review.

The Legislature need not try to void the current agreement to make the point that this is the last its members will accept without having a hand in it.

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