Talks with federal government on Pennsylvania Medicaid plan said to be in final stages

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — An announcement could be made soon on Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to use billions of federal Medicaid expansion dollars under the 2010 health care law to subsidize private health insurance policies, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Kait Gillis, a state Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman, said negotiations with the federal government are in the final stages, but details remain under wraps.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and the federal agency consistently has declined to publicly discuss details of Corbett's plan. The 124-page plan was formally submitted in February, and closed-door negotiations began in April after a public comment period.

States were able to expand Medicaid beginning Jan. 1, with 100 percent of the cost of coverage to be footed initially by the federal government. So far, 26 states have expanded Medicaid coverage, including every neighbor of Pennsylvania and eight that have Republican governors. Two states, Arizona and Iowa, are using private insurance companies to administer the plans, and Pennsylvania's plan is modeled on theirs.

Corbett, a critic of Medicaid and the health care law, has formulated his plan to try to make it distinct from the Medicaid expansion that conservatives dislike, while still taking the federal money that pays for it. In part, Corbett has sought to make the Medicaid expansion insurance policies free of some of Medicaid's coverage rules and more like commercial plans that are offered in the private market.

Opposition from the Obama administration prompted him to ease one condition: a work-search requirement for able-bodied, working-age Medicaid enrollees.

A key test will be whether Pennsylvania can persuade federal officials that its Medicaid plan will not cost more than traditional Medicaid coverage would. The Corbett plan would cover the same population as the Medicaid expansion: working adults who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,500.

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