- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Monday it is taking steps to simplify the benefits packages for more than 1 million adult Medicaid recipients and undo what advocates for the poor had called a severe cutback for some adults under a plan advocated by former Gov. Tom Corbett.

The administration released a Monday letter to a federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services official saying it is withdrawing a Corbett request for approval to create a low-risk benefits package for healthier adults on Medicaid.

Instead, Wolf, who took office Jan. 20, signaled that he plans to eventually create one benefits package for all adults in Medicaid, a more radical consolidation than the one Corbett had sought to accomplish.

A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman could not immediately comment Monday.

Corbett had sought to make the low-risk benefits package take effect Jan. 1 as part of an overhaul of Medicaid coverage that would create three benefits packages, down from the 14 his administration had inherited.

At the same time, Corbett’s outgoing administration was expanding Medicaid by making an estimated 600,000 people - primarily low-income, single working adults - newly eligible on Jan. 1 for coverage under guidelines set by the 2010 federal health care law.

But the federal government had yet to approve Corbett’s request to create the low-risk benefits package, and candidates for it had simply kept the Medicaid benefits they had before Jan. 1.

About 135,000 Medicaid enrollees, mostly low-income parents and some former foster children, had been slated to go into the low-risk benefits package, said Kristen Dama, a lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, a public interest law center that helps the poor get access to services.

Corbett administration officials had contended that limiting services in the low-risk benefits package would save money without taking away services that people need, but they were unable to say how much it would save. Wolf’s health care advisers and the insurance companies that manage Medicaid benefits contend that properly managing health care services - not creating utilization limits - is the best way to save money.

Advocates for the poor had criticized the limits on services sought by Corbett and had complained that the process for deciding who should get the low-risk package or a more generous high-risk package was complicated and confusing.

Before the expansion of Medicaid’s income guidelines that took effect Jan. 1, about 1.1 million Pennsylvania adults were on Medicaid, primarily the elderly, disabled, low-income parents or low-income pregnant women.

Under the expansion, many more people will be eligible for coverage. Now, childless adults making up to about $16,000 a year - that’s 138 percent of the 2014 federal poverty level - can apply for coverage. More parents also will become eligible, depending on income and children.

About 156,000 people have signed up under the Medicaid expansion, a Wolf administration spokeswoman said Monday.

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