Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett appears to have backed off from one of the most controversial parts of his Medicaid waiver proposal: a job search requirement for able-bodied, low-income residents.

 

Corbett is seeking approval to direct generous federal funding -- initially earmarked for states expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act -- toward helping those residents buy private coverage through a plan he calls Healthy Pennsylvania.

It's a type of model that some states, including Arkansas, are pursuing. But unlike other states seeking waivers, Corbett's plan includes a job-training requirement for people working fewer than 20 hours a week.

Some questioned whether Washington would go for it.

In a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week, Corbett has proposed a "voluntary, incentive-only one-year pilot program" in place of the job-search requirement outlined in his waiver. Participation would be tied to additional reductions in health care premiums and co-payments.

"We think that this voluntary pilot that the governor is willing to consider and negotiate on, it's a true test of President Obama's willingness to give flexibility to the states," said Jen Branstetter, director of policy for the governor.

Branstetter said Corbett met briefly with Sebelius in Washington, D.C., last week, and she expressed concerns over the employment portion of the waiver.

Pointing to the state's job-training successes with its TANF program, Branstetter said this pilot would seek a federal review after the first year.

"We'll go back to the Obama administration at the end of the year and say, 'Look at the data, look at the individuals who were uninsured, did not have the job training and skill sets they needed for full-time employment, but look, we got them into job training, we got them going to job fairs, connected with employers in Pennsylvania, we got them full-time employment.

"And as a tremendous byproduct of it, we got them commercial insurance through their employer rather than government sponsored health care," she said.

Branstetter estimates about half a million low-income residents would gain health coverage through Healthy Pennsylvania.

Currently, single, "able-bodied" low-income residents are not eligible for Medicaid in Pennsylvania and in many other states. Under a traditional Medicaid expansion, those earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 annually, would gain coverage.

New Jersey and Delaware have taken this traditional route.