HAZLETON — About a dozen area residents marched into state Rep. Tarah Toohil’s district office Wednesday to ask why she voted against Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.
They didn’t get answers because Toohil wasn’t there, but they left questions and concerns with staffers, who promised Toohil would get back to them.
RoseYanko of Wilkes-Barre said she has been a licensed practical nurse for nearly 20 years and couldn’t afford health insurance while she was working. Now, she has liver disease and has been putting off a biopsy for four years because she can’t afford to pay for one.
“I’m a single mother with two daughters who just graduated college. I’m the only parent that they have, and I want to live. I don’t want liver cancer. I want something to be done, and there are 700,000 other people (in Pennsylvania) who need coverage beside myself,” Yanko said.
Yanko said Toohil “flipped the script” on health care, breaking promises she made during campaigns. She and other demonstrators said they came out after learning Toohil, R-Butler Township, spoke on the House floor last week, advocating that language authorizing Medicaid expansion be stripped from a welfare-related bill that had bipartisan approval in the Senate, which the House Rules Committee did.
Brian Symone, an employee at Schuylkill Medical Center, said his employer and other “safety net hospitals,” which he said are required to treat everyone, with or without insurance, would be out of business in a matter of years without Medicaid expansion and if cuts to Medicaid continue.
Alex Mclean of Hazleton said he works in a health care facility and can’t afford company health care insurance premiums. “Now … I have to decide whether I’m going to continue working in a profession I enjoy or end up going to a better paying job that will also offer me the insurance that I desperately need due to a shoulder injury that I got at work.”
Toohil said in a phone interview later Wednesday that she is not necessarily opposed to Medicaid expansion, but she does have “trepidation” about costs “down the road” and that the federal government might leave Pennsylvania “holding the bag.” She said she didn’t think it was appropriate to have the expansion language in a bill that included language on changing the name of the Department of Public Welfare, which she opposes.
Toohil also said it doesn’t make sense to her to pump more money — federal or otherwise — into a Medicaid system that is “broken” and currently doesn’t provide enough access to high-quality care, noting that many physicians in the area no longer accept Medicaid patients.
Toohil said she believes AdultBasic — a state-subsidized health insurance plan for the working poor — should be reinstated, and more study of the Medicaid system is needed. She thinks establishing more free clinics could help people who can’t afford insurance until the Medicaid system is fixed. And she encouraged those who can’t afford insurance or treatment, such as Yanko, to come to her office for help finding possible solutions.
Guy Anthony, a demonstrator from Montgomery County, said federal dollars would pay for the expansion for the first three years and 90 percent after that. He said if federal funding decreased, Pennsylvania could drop out of the program.
Told what Anthony said, Toohil responded that it would be hard to discontinue the expansion because “you already created dependency.”
Anthony, said it was “encouraging” to see the Senate “put partisanship aside and put together a plan that addressed all these concerns that (Toohil) claims to have.” He said the House Republican plan is “to create a task force to study all the other studies that they’ve already studied … and then send a recommendation on those studies back to the House.”
“That’s the plan: Do nothing; study, study, study it to death. My question you can put to her is, while they’re studying it, does she have any idea how many of the 700,000 people are going to be dead by the time they’re done studying?” Anthony said.