Editorial: Gov. Ed Rendell, state facing hard times

http://www.delcotimes.com

Gov. Ed Rendell was a busy man on Thursday, signing dozens of new bills into law.

There were measures, among others, providing funds to repair bridges, add new county judges – including one for Delaware County – and to restrict the use of mandatory overtime for nurses.

The state’s Wiretap Law was extended until 2013, and new licensing requirements were enacted for acupuncturists, crane operators and massage therapists.

But one goal set by the Democratic governor this year eluded him: Expanding subsidized health-care coverage for thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians.

Rendell and Republican leaders of the state Senate simply couldn’t come to terms on who would be covered and how much it would cost.

Rendell was fuming earlier this week. “This was mean-spirited conduct by people who did not want to see action taken on what is the most fundamental challenge for most people,” he said.

But Senate Republican leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9 of Chester, said he feared the state could not afford to expand coverage in the long term without raising taxes, which he was reluctant to do as the economy continues its free-fall nationwide.

“I think … and I don’t believe it’s just in our caucus, that it would be irresponsible for us to announce a new program when the state is now facing a $2-to-3 billion deficit in this year alone,” Pileggi said.

Rendell’s proposal would have extended coverage to more than 118,000 adults on a waiting list for the state’s adultBasic insurance program for uninsured adults whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid. Roughly 49,000 people are currently enrolled in adultBasic. It would have cost more than $2 billion over five years.

The Senate countered with a plan to spend an additional $50 million annually on adultBasic, using existing state money only, according to the Associated Press. Both proposals called for the state to spend $30 million a year on health clinics that serve the poor, a measure championed by the Senate GOP.

Left hanging was the state program that helps doctors pay for medical-malpractice insurance. Rendell wanted to phase out the program known as MCare over five years, while the Senate wanted to extend it to 2011 without necessarily ending it.
In negotiations it was clear the governor wouldn’t budge on the MCare issue unless he got the health-care package he wanted, according to several members of Delaware County’s Harrisburg delegation.

So now the state has neither. That’s bad news for doctors getting huge malpractice-insurance bills and for those who remain without basic health-care coverage.

This newspaper has, in the past, supported Rendell’s effort to cover the uninsured. But in this instance, Pileggi and his allies played the issue right.

Wall Street continues its bloody downward spiral. Credit markets are still frozen, despite the promise of a $700 billion bailout to the financial markets. State lawmakers are already warning that Pennsylvania may face a $2.5 billion budget shortfall in the next year.

In short, things are going to get worse before they get better. Probably they’re going to get much worse.

Members of the local delegation to the state House, meeting with the Daily Times Editorial Board this week, are quietly warning of a major tax increase next year – along the lines of former Gov. Bob Casey’s $3 billion hike in the early 1990s.
The economy is teetering. And a massive expansion of a state entitlement program with no price tag attached is simply an irresponsible thing to do.

It’s too bad doctors are left holding the bag while the politicians dither. But with all the sick people they’ll be treating because they can’t afford preventative health care, at least they’ll have some job security.

The same can’t be said for many of us.

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