Wolf eyes 'plain vanilla' Medicaid as complaints pour in over predecessor's coverage changes

Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that he wants a "plain vanilla" Medicaid program as his administration goes about addressing complaints over changes his predecessor had sought to make to health care coverage for more than 1 million adults in Pennsylvania.

Wolf, who took office Jan. 20, made the comments a day after his administration said it has begun taking steps to try to simplify Pennsylvania's Medicaid system amid an expansion of the program's income guidelines under the 2010 federal health care law.

"I just want to go back to the plain vanilla Medicaid," Wolf told reporters after a public event at a downtown Harrisburg hotel. "I think that's going to save us money and will actually serve our population much better."

Wolf's administration says it plans to create one benefits plan for all adults on Medicaid this spring.

Kristen Dama, a lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, a public interest law center that helps the poor get access to services, said her organization is watching to see what kind of benefits plan Wolf's administration ultimately develops and how quickly it does it.

"Those are the details that we are very eager to see," Dama said.

A single Medicaid benefits plan would undo moves made by former Gov. Tom Corbett's administration to reshape existing benefits for more than 1 million adults already on Medicaid and to shape benefits for people newly eligible under the expanded income guidelines.

Both the overhaul in benefits and the expansion were designed to take effect on Jan. 1, effectively creating three new benefits plans administered by private insurance companies through two different systems. More than 150,000 people have signed up in the six weeks since the Medicaid expansion took effect, according to the Wolf administration.

But advocates for the poor and uninsured complain that the application process has been bungled, resulting in long delays or people being inexplicably rejected. A screening questionnaire designed to assign people into the right benefits plan is cumbersome, confusing and working poorly, they say.

"I think all those different pieces are overwhelming the system," said Antoinette Kraus, executive director of the Harrisburg-based nonprofit Pennsylvania Healthcare Access Network.

The screening questionnaire will be dumped when the three benefits plans are reduced to one, the Wolf administration said.

Meanwhile, some enrollees who were moved into a benefits plan created for adults eligible under the expanded income guidelines are having trouble getting coverage for dialysis, mental health counseling or drug addiction treatment, advocates for the poor and uninsured say.

In a memo issued Friday, officials from the departments of Human Services and Drug and Alcohol Programs said they were working to help about 8,500 Medicaid enrollees who had had problems getting mental health counseling or drug addiction treatment.