Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill Friday that passed both houses of the Pennsylvania Legislature to impose work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients.
Wolf’s veto was expected by many given that he had done the same to similar legislation in 2017.
“This legislation does not promote health coverage, access and treatment,” Wolf said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Instead, this legislation increases costs, creates unnecessary delays and confusion, penalizes individuals who need healthcare, and terminates health coverage for those who need it the most.”
The premise of Wolf’s veto was immediately called into question by lawmakers and good-governance advocates.
“Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation that would have ensure those who can work, do work in order to receive Medical Assistance (MA) program benefits,” state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, wrote in a post on Facebook. “This legislation would have set enabled able-bodied recipients on a path to employment while also receiving assistance. The legislation was written in a manner so as not to negatively impact those who need assistance.”
Nathan Benefield, vice president of the nonprofit Commonwealth Foundation, questioned if the governor truly understood the legislation, House Bill 2138.
“Not sure he had time to read the bill,” Benefield wrote on Twitter. “His statement certainly doesn't describe what the bill does at all.”
Republican Scott Wagner, Wolf’s opponent in the November election, said that once in office, he would support legislation like HB2138.
“The Governor has made it clear that he measures the success of government by how many people are on public assistance,” Wagner said on Twitter. “I will measure the success of my administration by how many people are gainfully employed. I will sign this legislation when it comes to my desk.”
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Uniontown, would have required that Medicaid recipients work at least 20 hours a week or perform 12 job training-related tasks each week. It would have exempted pregnant mothers, high school students, those over 65, those receiving disability benefits and a number of other groups of people who couldn’t reasonably be expected to work.
Supporters of the legislation pointed out that it was intended to ensure that enough money was available to support those who most need Medicaid assistance while also providing an avenue to long-term economic success for those who may be trapped in a cycle of relying on public benefits.
“Today, [Gov. Wolf] slammed the door of opportunity on thousands of Pennsylvanians looking for a pathway out of poverty by vetoing HB 2138,” wrote Gina Dorio, public affairs director for Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, on Twitter. “His biggest donor is pleased.”
Dorio also linked to a report from her organization noting that any decrease in the rolls of public beneficiaries could decrease bureaucratic overhead of those programs. That, in turn, would decrease the influence of public sector unions, which have donated heavily to Wolf’s re-election campaign.
“The extent to which Gov. Wolf is in the pockets of special interests is astounding,” said Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs. “Since 2014, Wolf’s campaign has accepted more than $10 million from government unions – and these unions have gotten their money’s worth at the expense of Pennsylvanians.”